A sad day for fans of the beautiful mythical statues of Easter Island. A major fire has broken out in Rapa Nui National Park, 3,500 kilometers off the west coast of Chile, causing “irreparable damage” to the archaeological site.
“More than 100 hectares on the island have been affected, including the Moi region,” the national park said in a statement on its official Facebook page on Thursday. Carolina Perez, the undersecretary for cultural heritage, said flames have ravaged the island since Monday.
Rapa Nui contains more than 1,000 stone statues – giant heads believed to have been first carved by the island’s indigenous people in the 13th century. The area around Rano Raraku volcano, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was hardest hit. It is estimated that there were several hundred moai in that area, which is the local name for the statues.
Eric Tepano, the Ma’u Henua community manager responsible for managing and maintaining the park, described the damage as “irreparable.” “The moai are completely charred and you can see the effect of the fire on them,” he said.
Easter Island Mayor Pedro Edmunds Bawa said he believed the fire was “not an accident” and told local radio station Bauta that “all fires in Rapa Nui are man-made”. “The damage caused by the fire is irreversible,” Edmunds Bawa added. “The crack of the original stone and the symbol cannot be fixed, no matter how many millions of euros or dollars are invested in it.”
The park said a “lack of volunteers” made the fire difficult to control. The total damage to the site has not yet been determined. The fire comes just three months after the island reopened to tourism on August 5, after two years of lockdown due to Covid-19.
Before the pandemic, Easter Island – its main source of income from tourism – received 160,000 visitors a year on two daily flights. But with the arrival of Covid-19 in Chile, tourist activity has come to a complete halt.
It was inhabited by Polynesians for a long time, before being annexed by Chile in 1888. The ruins are believed to represent the living ancestors of the Polynesian people on Easter Island and were once associated with the ritual activities of the community.
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