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Experts Fear Volcanic Eruption On Fire-swept Galapagos island

March 19, 1985

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) _ Newspapers quoted experts Tuesday as saying intense heat from a raging brush fire could spark a volcanic eruption on the largest island of the Galapagos chain, where Charles Darwin gathered evidence for his theory of natural selection.

The government of Ecuador, which controls the archipelago 680 miles off its coast, said it would ask the United Nations to send special aircraft to fight the fire that has ravaged Isabel island for three weeks.

Isabel is one of 13 islands in the archipelago, which is famous for giant land turtles, lizards and birds that are extinct elsewhere.

Jorge Egas, the social welfare minister, said the blaze is advancing about 100 yards an hour, has devastated nearly half the island’s 115,000 acres and endangers the eggs of the giant turtles and the other unique wildlife. He said the appeal will be made to the Office of the U.N. Disaster Relief Coordinator. About 300 people, including members of civil defense, the armed forces, firemen, and residents have been unable to control the blaze, which began at a time of severe drought. They say they are fighting it with shovels, rakes and buckets of water, and need heavy equipment.

The newspaper El Universo of Guayaquil, Ecuador, said authorities on the island asked geologists and vulcanologists to evaluate ″the indicators of an imminent volcanic eruption.″

Experts on Isabel said they feared an eruption because of high ground temperatures in the central area neer the Sierra Negra volcano, which has a crater six miles wide.

Isabel has five other volcanos, including Cerro Azul, which erupted five years ago.

Darwin spent five weeks in the Galapagos in 1835 doing research he used in developing his theory of evolution, which he set out in ″Origin of Species″ in 1859. The Charles Darwin Institute has its headquarters on Santa Cruz island.

In New York, Wesley Lanyon, curator of birds at the American Museum of Natural History, said: ″The islands are considered a sort of natural laboratory for evolution by most biologists. For so many years, they were undisturbed, so the forms there have been permitted to evolve over centuries and centuries without influence of Man.″

Lanyon, who has visited the islands three times, said many birds should be able to survive the fire. ″The adults will simply fly off to neighboring islands. But if they are breeding, this is going to play havoc with productivity,″ he said.

He also saw some possible benefit from the fire. ″One thing that would be a great blessing would be to exterminate some of the goats, cats and dogs″ that settlers have introduced, he said. ″That’s one of the biggest problems on the islands now. The goats, in particular, will just eat up everything.″

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