Last week, a wildfire tore through a large area of Rapa Nui National Park on Chile’s Easter Island. The fire caused serious damage to several of the large, ancient stone statues that the island is famous for.
Easter Island is home to about 900 large stone statues called moai (pronounced “mo-eye”). The moai are carved stone statues with extremely large heads. The average height of the statues is about 13 feet (4 meters), but the tallest standing moai is 33 feet (10 meters) tall.
The massive statues were created over 500 years ago by the people who lived on the island at that time. These ancient Polynesians were known as the Rapa Nui people. There are still many questions about how they were able to create, move, and stand up such massive statues.
Hundreds of moai are located near the Rani Raraku volcano, inside Rapa Nui National Park. The area has been named by the United Nations as an area that’s important to protect. Sadly, that’s also where the fire was most intense.
A wildfire spread quickly through the Rapa Nui National Park on October 4. Park workers and fire fighters worked for hours to control the blaze. But the fire spread easily through the grassland around the area. It wasn’t until late the next day that the fire was brought under control. The park says it didn’t have enough volunteers to fight the fire more quickly.
The park is still working to figure out how bad the damage is. But the fire may have burned as much as 0.4 square miles (1 square kilometer) of land, mainly centered around the Rano Raraku volcano. There are 386 moai in and around Rano Raraku.
Experts are still investigating, but it’s clear that the fire has damaged some of these moai. Ariki Tepano leads the group in charge of taking care of the park. He says, “The moai are totally charred [blackened] and you can see the effect of the fire upon them.”
Chile’s government says the stones would have expanded as they were heated by the fire, and then shrunk again as they cooled. This process weakens the stones and can cause cracks. Pedro Edmunds Paoa is the mayor of Easter Island. “The damage caused by the fire can’t be undone,” he says.
The cause of the fire isn’t known yet. But Mr. Edmunds Paoa believes the fire was not started naturally. “All the fires on Rapa Nui are caused by human beings,” he said. He believes the island needs more government support to be able to deal with situations like this one.
The moai have made Easter Island a very popular tourist site. The island is located in the Pacific Ocean, about 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometers) from Chile’s coast. Despite the distance, Easter Island had about 160,000 visitors a year, before the coronavirus pandemic.
The park had only recently re-opened after being closed for about two years because of the pandemic. It’s now been closed again as experts try to learn more about the damage caused by the fire.
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