San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Damage from Chirripó Park blaze reaches 150 hectares

Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla took part in a flyover this weekend in Chirripó National Park as a fire continued to burn through the forest, charring more than 150 hectares.

Strong winds, with gusts reaching 60 kilometers per hour, have hampered efforts to control the blaze that began the previous Monday.

Strange spring weather continues to play a role in the fire’s ebbs and flows. Rare March rains fell around the conflagration Sunday night to dull its spread. However, an early morning fog prevented a helicopter from the Guatemalan Air Force from doing flyovers over the park. A national helicopter contracted by the Costa Rican government has been doing flyovers since Friday. High winds also deterred some of the flights.

The damage has affected an area of the reserve called La Amistad International Park, near Costa Rica’s border with Panama in the Southern Zone.

Authorities believe drug traffickers or hunters started the fire, and a criminal investigation is under way to determine the source of the disaster.  

During Chinchilla’s visit she stated the importance of capturing the arsonists. The daily La Nación reported that investigators have started questioning residents in villages near the park for clues on who sparked the fire.

Environment Minister René Castro joined the president on the trip. The Environment Ministry, the Firefighters’ Corps, the Red Cross and the Costa Rican Electricity Institute have worked with local staff in Pérez Zeledón, a Southern Zone canton, to stop the fire’s spread. Almost 200 firefighters and some 65 emergency workers, including local volunteers, are battling the fire.

Near the end of last week, firefighters built a barrier, or fire line, around the blaze by clearing out brush and other flammable material that could feed the flames. High winds have carried the flares through treetops.

The National Emergency Commission maintained a yellow alert – the government’s second most dangerous threat level – for the area. The commission has sent supplies such as food, water and communications equipment to the park. No serious injuries have been reported.

Rónald Chang, regional director of the National System of Conservation Areas, told The Tico Times last week that the fire is not near any tourist areas. The park is home to Cerro Chirripo, the country’s highest peak.

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