Arsonists burn hundreds of protected hectares in Costa Rica

February 20, 2009

More than five forest fires have broken out since Sunday, burning hundreds of hectares of forests and grasslands. According to the National Fire Management Program of the Environment, Energy and Telecommunications Ministry (MINAET), each was sparked intentionally.

Early Wednesday evening, an individual set fire to Cerro Las Vueltas Biological Reserve in the hills of Cerro de la Muerte, south of San José, burning three hectares before firefighters extinguished the flames. Authorities expected to identify the perpetrator by late yesterday, according to Luis Diego Román, coordinator of the firefighting program.

That followed a major human-made fire that burned approximately 370 hectares in Bajos de Olan, nearby indigenous communities in the Southern Zone region of Buenos Aires de Puntarenas.

Separate blazes were also started in nature reserves of El Rodeo, near University for Peace in Villa Colón, and Las Tablas, near the border with Panama, affecting a still-undetermined number of hectares.

Earlier in the week, at least 65 hectares were affected by flames in Barra Honda National Park, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste.

Though investigations are ongoing, Román speculated that these fires and others fought through the week were sparked by angry hunters or farmers, taking revenge against the authorities for land protection regulations, or to clear land for other uses.

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