Sad news from Rapa Nui, aka Easter Island, has reached the world with reports that the massive fire that spread the first week of October 2022 has caused irreparable damage to the isolated island’s iconic statues, known as moai. The blaze regrettably ripped through 250 acres of the UNESCO World Heritage site, and officials there say that many of the massive stone monoliths were charred or collapsed as a result. What’s even sadder is that the island’s mayor, Pedro Edmunds Paoa, stated that he believes the fire was “not an accident.”
According to reports, Paoa told local broadcaster Radio Pauta that “all the fires on Rapa Nui are caused by human beings.” He added that “the damage caused by the fire can’t be undone” and that “the cracking of an original and emblematic stone cannot be recovered, no matter how many millions of euros or dollars are put into it.” It’s also been reported that the land surrounding the Rano Raraku volcano sustained the worst of the damage. That area contains over 300 moai alone, in addition to the volcanic quarry the rock originated from.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
While a remote volcanic island in Polynesia, Easter Island is considered a Chilean territory. Rapa Nui is its native name. The statues and how they were erected have been a long-standing mystery with researchers. Just as mysterious is how and why the tiny island’s population ceased to exist. There have been suggestions that they over-harvested the trees that once stood there and that food and potable drinking water became an issue. No one knows for sure. What is certain is that the destruction of the statues is a huge loss for everyone.
Chilean National Monuments Council
Closed to the public while the damage is assessed, it’s understood that Chile’s National Monuments Council is still in the process of evaluating the site and trying to determine just how many of the curious statues were impacted by the devastating fire. Annexed by Chile in 1888, it is known as one of the most remote inhabited spots on the planet. Located in the Pacific Ocean, Polynesians are believed to have first settled there around 300 C.E. The statues were erected in standing positions all over the island, with some of them towering as much as 30 feet high. As many as 800 have been counted by visiting archeologists throughout the years, but there are thought to be at least 1000 of them or more.
Arson or Accident?
At this point, it’s unclear how badly Rapa Nui’s wildlife population may have been impacted. And they aren’t the only animal residents. There have been horses, sheep, and goats living there since the early 1900s. It would be terrible to think that someone could have purposely set fire to the terrain, but it’s not out of the question. Until the investigation is completed, the world will just have to wait and see. Let’s hope it was an accident because the alternative would be too demoralizing to contemplate.