Authorities say several ancient monolithic statues in the Rapa Nui National Park on Easter Island were damaged beyond repair in the wildfire.
The fire has burned more than 247 acres of the island, officials said in a statement Wednesday.
Ariki Tepano, director of the indigenous Ma’u Henua community that manages Rapa Nui National Park, described the damage as “irreparable and with consequences beyond what your eyes can see.” The statues “have been completely burned down,” he added.
Photos from Easter Island have been posted on social media showing charred statues and smoke scattered around the landscape.
The cause of the fire was not immediately clear, but Mayor Pedro Edmunds Paoa of Rapa Nui told Radio Pauta that he believes the fire “was not an accident” and that “all fires in Rapa Nui It’s all man-made.”
“The damage caused by the fire cannot be compensated for, no matter how many millions of euros or dollars are put in,” said Mr Paoa.
Authorities say a shortage of volunteer firefighters has made controlling the blaze difficult.
The area has been closed to visitors as authorities assess the extent of the damage.
Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, is located in the Pacific Ocean, about 2,200 miles off the coast of Chile, and is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world.
The island has attracted more than 100,000 visitors annually in recent years. Tourists have long been curious about the haunting ancient monolithic statues, known as moai, some 900 of which dot the landscape in Rapa Nui National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. recognize.
The long faces of the sculptures gaze into the lush landscape, home to more than 300 ceremonial and structural foundations related to agriculture, funeral rites, housing and manufacturing, and activities. other, according to UNESCO.
Visitors are also drawn to the island’s mysterious history and the Polynesians who discovered it 1,000 years ago. The island is about 15 miles wide at its widest and is home to Rano Raraku, a crater.
The Polynesians have established a “strong, imaginative and original tradition of sculpture and monumental architecture, untouched by outside influences,” UNESCO says on its website, It also adds that the colossal statues “have created an unparalleled landscape that continues to fascinate people around the world.”
Many descendants of Polynesian settlers fell prey to tribal fighting, European plague, and the slave trade in Peru. Archaeologists believe that the moai symbolizes the ancestors of the island’s inhabitants.
The island reopened to tourism in August after being closed for more than two years because of the coronavirus pandemic.