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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Maricao mayor decries ecological damage from ‘negligently’ caused fire in state forest

Maricao Mayor Wilfredo Ruiz Feliciano

By The Star Staff

Maricao Mayor Wilfredo “Juny” Ruiz Feliciano expressed concern on Thursday over the damages suffered at Maricao State Forest, after learning that someone through negligence caused a fire that ravaged an extensive portion of the popular tourist attraction located in the western mountain town.

“We believe that this is a criminal act; they definitely set fire or someone negligently allowed a fire to start in Indiera Fría Sector Las Piedras de Maricao. That fire was advancing and burned a considerable number of acres of land where the endemic species that inhabit our forest were affected,” Ruiz Feliciano said. “The area impacted by the fire is where the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and federal agencies chose to release and multiply the Puerto Rican parrot, an endangered bird for which they have developed a project to prevent its disappearance. We are concerned that any fire, no matter how small, greatly affects the watershed that is formed in Maricao, since it alters the balance between the vegetation and the bodies of water that feed [barrio] Indiera and the dam that feeds part of the town of Sabana Grande.”

Since Wednesday, both the Puerto Rico Firefighters Bureau and National Guard have worked to extinguish the blaze along PR-119 in the Camino los Méndez sector of San Germán and PR-366 in Maricao.

The mayor noted that the Maricao State Forest has a wide variety of endemic species that are unique to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. He thanked La Fortaleza Chief of Staff Noelia García, who he said “has been in constant communication with me on the issue of the unfortunate fire in the forest.”

“As a result of these conversations, [Public Safety Secretary] Alexis Torres has also contacted me and a division of the National Guard has been activated to help fight the fire,” Ruiz Feliciano said. “We thank Emergency Management of Cabo Rojo along with Maricao and the Puerto Rico [Firefighters Bureau] which immediately … came forward to help fight the fire.”

“It is important to note that wildlife specialists from all over the world constantly travel to this region to study the flora and fauna present in the thousands of acres that hold the highest plant diversity on the island (about 1,141 species of plants, of which 368 species reach tree size; about 108 species of orchids; 22 species of bromeliads; and 174 species of ferns),” the mayor added. “We can say that of the 128 endemic plant species recorded in Puerto Rico, 23 of them are found in the Maricao State Forest. Since I became mayor in January 2021, we have emphasized the Maricao State Forest as one of the main tourist offerings of what is now known as the Mountain Capital. The prompt action to stop the fire helped the adjacent communities, especially the elderly people of Indiera who had to receive, many of them, medical help as they were affected by smoke from combustion in the Maricao State Forest.”

“As soon as everything normalizes,” the mayor said, “we will be convening a group of volunteers to assess the damage to proceed with mitigating actions for the effects caused by this ecological disaster.”

“From now on they are all summoned to help in this call to recover the vegetation damaged by the fire,” he said.

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