Contrary to the conclusion announced by officials earlier this week, the wildfire on Isla Holbox was intentionally set.
Originally said to have been caused by a lightning strike, the blaze consumed 87 hectares of the natural protected area of Yum Balam, said the environmental agency Profepa. The fire started last Saturday and took several days to bring under control.
Profepa head Guillermo Haro said a flyover of the area where the fire occurred revealed no sign of human intervention, but when officials went in on foot they found several trees were marked with red paint.
“The fire started simultaneously at 10 different points, all marked with the red paint. This is an obvious indication of human presence in the area . . . .” Haro also said it would have been unusual for a fire caused naturally to spread with the speed it did over such a broad area.
He also acknowledged tensions that exist on Holbox over a tourist development.
“This intentionally set fire could well be part of a fight, a dispute, between developers and ejidatarios [community landowners],” suggested Haro.
The fire moved across the island from east to west in an irregular manner, consuming the endemic vegetation in an 87-hectare area and affecting a six-centimeter-deep organic layer in which organic matter was completely eliminated, exposing the ground to direct erosion by water, Profepa said.
Wildlife was also affected, with the “elimination and displacement” of several species of mammals, reptiles, birds and insects.
The environmental agency will file charges against anyone found responsible for setting the fire.
Profepa plans to ask the National Protected Areas Commission (Conanp) and National Forest Commission (Conafor) for an ecosystem restoration and reforestation program for the burned area.
Profepa will also ask that the Environment Secretariat not authorize any land-use changes in the affected area during the next 20 years.