A devastating wildfire earlier this week caused “immeasurable” damage to a number of Easter Island’s famous stone head statues.
“It’s unquantifiable, unmeasurable, the damage that is being done is irreparable,” said Pedro Edmunds, mayor of Easter Island, a Chilean territory 2,000 miles from the coast. “Because the fire heats the stone and the stone breaks.”
Scientists will visit the island to assess the extent of the damage and what they can do to repair or save the statues damaged by the fire, but Edmunds said there may not be a “solution”.
Edmunds also blamed the lack of support from the Chilean government as the cause of the damage, saying the state was “absent” and could have helped “prevent these problems.”
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At this point, the cause of the fire is still unknown, and Edmunds said there will be an investigation into both the cause and overall damage from the blaze.
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According to a preliminary report, the fire started on Tuesday and consumed more than 148 acres, including the Rano Raraku volcanic crater, where several of the statues are located.
“It is very painful for us to see the moai burning,” said Francisco Haoa, a representative of the Rapa Nui people, adding that the statues are already slowly being damaged by the weather and the fire is “accelerating that damage.” .
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The island, which is home to around 7,750 residents, had been closed to visitors during the coronavirus pandemic and only reopened to visitors in August this year.
Easter Island’s mysterious “Moai” statues are a major draw for tourists to the islands, compounding any loss of the stones. The island is home to over 1,000 of the statues, which can weigh several tons.
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The island successfully won a long-running battle earlier this year to bring back one of the statues that had been brought to Santiago, the capital, in the 19th century, showing how precious the statues are to local people. The government is currently in negotiations with other institutions such as the British Museum to recover more pieces.
Reuters contributed to this report.