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Firefighters battle Chirripó blaze

March 1, 2012

A fire apparently started in an act of vengeance has burned more than 120 hectares of Chirripó National Park, as firefighters struggle to control the blaze due to strong winds.

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

Approximately 110 firefighters and volunteers from the local community are battling the fire, which was spotted on Monday, according to Radio Reloj. Members of the Costa Rican Firefighters’ Corps told the news station that the department is requesting more financial and human resources to put out the blaze.

Authorities believe an arsonist caused the blaze – likely a hunter or drug trafficker, since the fire started in a hard-to-reach patch about 2,200 meters up the mountain. It takes about two hours of walking on rough, wooded trails to reach the initial point where the fire started. Bernal Valderrama, the park’s director, told the daily La Nación that in spots around the park, police officers frequently had destroyed marijuana plantations. 

Valderrama told the newspaper that the blaze not only threatens the forest, but also water supplies for dozens of communities in Pérez Zeledón, a Southern Zone canton.

Firefighters thought they had the fire under control Wednesday, but strong winds in the region, reaching speeds of 40 to 50 kph, whipped the flames through treetops between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., according to authorities.

Fire Department Director Héctor Chávez told Radio Reloj that emergency workers have made an eight-kilometer barrier, or fire line, around the blaze by clearing out brush and other flammable material that could feed the flames. The crew still needed to build another 1.6-km barrier to complete the ring around the fire. Firefighters and volunteers are using machetes, shovels, hatchets and chainsaws to construct the loop.

The National Emergency Commission declared a yellow alert Thursday and sent supplies to teams based at five control points around the park’s boundaries. The commission sent food, water, blankets and communications equipment.

Chirripó guides and police officers also are securing the perimeter to make sure no visitors enter vicinities near the fire. Rónald Chang, regional director of the National System of Conservation Areas told The Tico Times earlier this week that the fire is not near any touristic areas. 

No serious injuries have been reported.

Chirripó National Park is home to the country’s highest point, Cerro Chirripó. Last weekend was the annual Chirripó Marathon, a race where participants sprint to the top of the mountain, which is located far from the fire.

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