Nicoya, Nature

Fires in Hills Worry Nicoyans and Paralyze MINAET

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Nicoyans are concerned by the repeated burning in hills close to the city, as so far in 2014, two particular hills have been burned on four occasions.

The first of the hills to be lit was Cerro Jesus, located near La Mansion in Nicoya, on February 13.

Randall  Briceño, coordinator of the forest fire brigade, reported that the fire was started when a nearby restaurant owner burned garbage on their property, located close to the hill, which caused 10 hectares of the mountain to be burned.

The popular Cerro de La Cruz, located in the Chorotega de Nicoya neighborhood, has been burned repeatedly, catching fire on three occasions.

The first burning was reported on Feburary 16, in an area close to the Multisport facility in Nicoya, which consumed 15 hectares.

Later, on March 1, the worst disaster happened with the burning of 35 hectares in the area around the Professional Technical high school in Nicoya (CTP – Colegio Técnico Profesional), which reached the higher parts of the mountain.

Wilberth Ugarte Medina, director of the CTP, commented that some of the burned land is part of the high school. He believes that a large part of the problem stems from the freedom of access to the property that exists, as any person can reach the hill by crossing the school’s lot.

With regard to that, Briceño indicated that there is little surveillance by the owners of lands around the La Cruz hill.

For her part, Xinia Campos, an official for the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE – Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía) in Nicoya, explained that the resources available to the ministry in Nicoya are limited, so when a large fire happens several times, “The office becomes paralyzed to attend to the forest emergencies.”

“Currently we only have one pickup truck for the movement of volunteer firefighters,” Campos explained.

Briceño said that at the moment they have a group of 35 volunteer forest fire fighters divided into four strategic groups to take care of emergencies. He clarified that they also receive support from Nicoya’s group of firefighters; however, their operation is reduced because the majority of the emergencies to which they respond are structures located in the city and not in places with difficult access, such as the mountains.

Briceño thinks that property owners’ negligence, as many fires could be avoided if the properties were monitored and their perimeter borders were cleared at the start of the year.

“There is no oversight and the protected areas are  the ones that suffer; it takes 15 years for the forest to regenerate,” said Briceño.

The official indicated that an initiative exists to create an Association of Nicoya Forest Firefighters, which would have legal standing and could receive resources to respond to local emergencies.

He also reported that the group of volunteer forest firefighters are using controlled fires, which have the approval of MINAET. Property owners interested in receiving more information regarding the service can call 2686-6760.