A suspected arson attack has caused “irreparable” damage to Easter Island’s iconic standing stones, with more than 100 hectares of land devastated by the blaze.

The moai were carved by the indigenous Rapa Nui being between 1250 and 1500 AD, and are made of rock from the Rano Raraku volcano.

A fire ripped through the Rapa Nui national park on Monday, burning through more than 100 hectares of land, with only external firewalls preventing the blaze from spreading even further.

It’s estimated that dozens of the statues have been damaged, with park director Ariki Tepano warning the damage to the totems was “irreparable and with consequences beyond what your eyes can see”.

Mayor Pedro Edmunds Paoa, who explained that the heat of the fire had cracked several stones, leaving them vulnerable to water damage, intimated the fires had been deliberately started at hit out at the Chilean central government for failing to protect the park.

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He told Radio Pauta: “Fires have no origin, only an end, and that which is created by a human being is no accident. All fires in Rapa Nui are man-made.

“A lot of the moai are half-buried and that’s what saved them, but those on the surface were reached by the fire. There are several, but one would be enough.

“The State has been absent the whole time, the only people doing work on the island are the municipality, but it doesn’t have enough resources for all the issues this island faces.

“In terms fire prevention, we have a park of 16 thousand hectares, which is the largest open-air museum in the world, and it’s a world heritage site. It is the most relevant thing that Chile has, and it is not taken care of. And it is not taken care of because resources are required for its care, it’s delicate.

“We need permanent guards at the sites to prevent fires.”

Rapa Nui’s environmental protection agency said that the destruction of bird nests and eggs could lead to extinction of native species, while “prominent native plants” could also struggle to recover.

It’s feared the Takave bird, which was reintroduced to the area around 20 years ago, could abandon the habitat due to the devastation.

The organisation also warned that while the stone heads may not look affected, chemical alterations could weaken the surface of the statues “causing damage that is irreparable”. It calculated that “several dozen” moai had been affected.

The fire occurred just three months after Easter Island was re-opened to tourism following the Covid-19 pandemic. Prior to the shutdown it attracted around 160,000 visitors per year, served by two flights a day from the mainland.

Newly-elected Chilean president Gabriel Boric had urged visitors to come to see the national park following its re-opening.

He said in September: “The Polynesian culture of Rapa Nui, its natural and archaeological wealth is a magnet for travellers from all over the world. Rapa Nui is one of the most important tourist destinations in the world.”