Easter Island statues suffer 'irreparable' damage in fire

A wildfire on Easter Island has caused "irreparable" damage to some of its iconic stone-carved statues, according to authorities.

The blaze, which is being treated as arson, "totally charred" a number of the famous figures, known as moai, after sweeping across more than 100 hectares (247 acres) around the Rano Raraku volcano, a UNESCO world heritage site.

Easter Island, which lies some 2,174 miles (3,500km) off the coast of Chile, is home to around a thousand of the ancient statues, carved by the indigenous Rapa Nui people more than 500 years ago.

Archaeologists discovered in recent years that the oversized heads had bodies buried underground.

The size of each moai varies significantly in height, with some standing up to 33ft (10m) tall, although the average is 13ft (4m).

The blaze was started deliberately, according to mayor of Easter Island, Pedro Edmunds.

"The damage caused by the fire can't be undone," he said.

The national park's director Ariki Tepano described the damage as "irreparable" and added: "The moai are totally charred and you can see the effect of the fire on them."

The area has been shut to visitors while an investigation is carried out.

The blaze comes just three months after the island was reopened to tourism on 5 August, 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.

However, the arrival of coronavirus in Chile saw visits suspended.