Easter Island statues suffer 'irreparable damage' in suspected arson attack

7 October 2022, 15:57

Easter Island statues damaged after fire tore across the island
Easter Island statues damaged after fire tore across the island. Picture: Getty

By Stephen Rigley

A number of Easter Island’s famous towering stone statues have become "irreparably" damaged after a huge fire.

The carved stone figures, known as moai, suffered severe charring after the blaze ripped across 148 hectares of land on Rapa Nui, 2,175 miles off the west coast of Chile.

Rapa Nui has more than 1,000 stone statues – giant heads that are believed to have first been carved in the 13th century by the island’s original inhabitants.

The area around the Rano Raraku volcano, a Unesco world heritage site, was reportedly the most affected.

An estimated several hundred moai are in that area, as well as in the quarry where the stone used to carve the sculptures is extracted.

Easter Island statue damaged by fire
Easter Island statue damaged by fire. Picture: Getty

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Ariki Tepano, director of the Ma’u Henua community in charge of the management and maintenance of the park, said the damage was “irreparable”.

He said: “The moai are totally charred and you can see the effect of the fire upon them."

Easter Island mayor, Pedro Edmunds Paoa, said he believed the fire was “not an accident,” telling local broadcaster Radio Pauta that “all the fires on Rapa Nui are caused by human beings.”

He added: “The damage caused by the fire can’t be undone. The cracking of an original and emblematic stone cannot be recovered, no matter how many millions of euros or dollars are put into it.”

Authorities have closed the area surrounding the towering stone heads while staff assess fire damage.

The fire comes just three months after the island was reopened to tourism on August 5, after two years of closure due to Covid-19.

Prior to the pandemic, Easter Island, where the main industry is tourism, attracted some 160,000 visitors a year.