Thousands of acres of prized dry tropical forest in the northwestern province of Guanacaste – declared a world heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) – burned in a massive forest fire last week.
According to Luis Diego Román, coordinator of the National Fire Management Program, the inferno affected 1,800 hectares inside the GuanacasteNational Park and as
the largest of the year thus far.
Though the exact cause is still unknown, officials believe a group of hunters in the region accidentally started the fire. According to a statement released by the Fire Management Program, suspects have been identified and are currently being investigated by the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ).
More than 200 firefighters were dispatched to the site, but strong winds, extremely dry weather and temperatures cresting 100 degrees Fahrenheit, typical of this time of year in Guanacaste, made it difficult for fighters to make headway, Román said.
The resulting massive plumes of smoke and flames, which covered the area for more than three days, delayed traffic during the busy Semana Santa Easter vacation week along the adjacentInter-American Highway
, and many smaller byways were closed for the duration.
The region hadn’t seen a fire of this magnitude for 15 years, according to Román, and the forest had just reached the point of regeneration. Animals such as white-tailed deer, snakes, rabbits and various species of birds, which depend on the unique dry forest habitat of the zone, were displaced, Roman said.
The fire may also affect local water supplies. With its heavy forest cover and shade, the park served as an important regeneration area for the aquifer that provides water to the growing nearby coastal communities of La Cruz, Colonia Bolaños and Cuajiniquil.