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Costa Rica sees increase in wildfires this past season

September 23, 2015

Costa Rican wildfires this year destroyed almost 10,000 hectares more than in 2014, according to a report this week by the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC).

This year’s “wildfire season” burned a total of 40,350 hectares, up from 30,440 hectares last year. Most of the fires occurred in the Pacific provinces of Puntarenas and Guanacaste.

Costa Rica’s wildfire season usually runs from January to June, but extreme weather in recent years prompted Environment Ministry officials to extend this year’s season from December 2014 to July 2015. The season usually coincides with the harshest months of the country’s dry season, during which high temperatures facilitate the start and spread of wildfires.

During a wildfire season the Environment Ministry increases preventive measures such as adding more staff for on-the-ground and air patrols, daily evaluations of satellite images, and media campaigns.

Luis Román Madriz, coordinator of SINAC’s National Commission on Wildfires, said he expects a lack of rainfall during the current rainy season to prompt officials to start the 2016 wildfire season early – in December – and maintain it for eight months. SINAC officials believe the El Niño weather phenomenon is to blame for low rainfall levels this year.

See: El Niño in Costa Rica: We haven’t seen the worst of it yet, say experts

The number of hectares destroyed in protected areas also increased over the previous season. A total of 4,534 hectares of forest were burned in national parks and nature reserves, about 2,500 hectares more than during the past season.

SINAC firefighters this season battled a total of 90 wildfires – 54 of them in protected areas. The remaining 36 occurred on private property, government land and in indigenous territories. That figure is lower than during the 2014 season, which registered 139.

Román said officials believe 98 percent of all wildfires this season were caused by human activity, mostly hunting. He said the next wildfire season likely will be worse due to the current lack of rainfall.

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