Costa Rica — The forest fire season in Costa Rica will officially begin on January 15, but an early wildfire in Guanacaste recently served as a grim reminder that the hot, non-rainy season spells danger for the driest region of the country. The fire occurred in the Coral de Piedra (Stone Coral) area, a protected wetland located in the Nicoya canton. Firefighters and conservation officials rushed to contain the flames on Saturday morning.
According to Eddier Ortiz of online Guanacaste news site Primero en Noticias, the National Commission on Forest Fires (Spanish acronym: CONIFOR) reported that the conflagration in the Stone Coral area was mostly fueled by an invasive plant species known as tifa (Typha domingensi, also known as cattail). This aquatic herb gives conservation officials quite a headache since birds do not like them and tend to stay away from areas where tifa grows.
In the past, some rice farmers and landowners in Guanacaste have sought to stop the spread of tifa by burning it. For this reason, investigators are looking into a possible man-made fire. Carelessness, arson and pyromania have been appearing prominently as causes of forest fires in recent years; for this reason, CONIFOR is pushing legislators in Costa Rica to enact laws that would be more stringent with regard to penalizing people who cause forest fires.
The tifa plants show a propensity for spontaneous combustion when dry and hot conditions descend upon Guanacaste, a province that often suffers prolonged drought periods. Ten years ago, conservation and community organizations tried to make the most out of tifa through sustainable techniques such as feeding it to livestock and making handcrafts from these plants, but they seem to outgrow human efforts to eradicate them.
Since the Stone Coral fire took place in a wetland, firefighters mostly used heavy machinery and special containment techniques instead of using water, which is a precious resource that is often subject to shortages in Guanacaste.