If you’ve seen a burning field or mountainside in the summertime, it’s not a coincidence. In fact, it’s an everyday occurrence in Guanacaste, the province with the most forest fires in the country.
Of the 10 Costa Rican cantons with the most forest fires, six are located in Guanacaste, according to the System of Conservation Areas’ (SINAC-MINAE) National Fire Management Program.
Statistics from 2016 show that Santa Cruz is the canton with the most emergency fire calls in all of Costa Rica. Last year, 20 percent of the country’s total burned land area was located in Santa Cruz, about 11,755 hectares. That’s the area equivalent of 16,000 National Stadiums.
Of 114 total forest fires across the country last year, 42 percent were attributed to “vandalism” and hunting, 39 percent to agricultural burning and 11 percent to land-use modifications. All 114 fires were caused by humans.
Authorities hope to reduce that number In 2017 and provide better a response. But they admit that funds earmarked for more resources to fight forest fires, available because of a national emergency declaration after the 2015 drought, have not yet been allocated.
What’s the 2017 Outlook?
Guanacaste’s landscape of glowing fires in pasturelands isn’t going away in 2017. According to Luis Diego Román, coordinator of the National Fire Management Program, SINAC already is preparing for this summer’s fires.
The good news is that experts say fewer forest fires are likely this year, with a greater gap between them, due to heavy rains in 2016.
Román said that in mid-January, officials began using a Permanent Alert System that allows for daily vigilance with satellite imagery, the activation of permanent watchtowers and seasonal posts, and land patrols.
The system was launched as part of the national emergency declaration that responded to the 2015 drought. That declaration helped secure ¢1.6 billion for an upgraded fire response program.
Firefighters also have new equipment, including radios, protective gear and firefighting tools. Officials also plan on hiring new firefighters.
Although SINAC has the government’s support to make improvements, Román said further delays could jeopardize future fire response effectiveness.
For example, a purchase order delay for 11 pickup trucks and two all-terrain fire trucks to be used throughout the country means they won’t arrive until 2018.
The same kind of administrative delay means that funds won’t be available until next year for 25 new fire responders, who were supposed to provide support in Guanacaste during the three most intense summer months this year.
For now, SINAC is reminding the public that it is illegal to burn trash or burn on vacant lots and in urban areas. Landowners who need to set agricultural fires must obtain a permit from the Agriculture and Livestock Ministry.