Belizean Authorities Investigate Possible Geothermal Activity

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Press reports have confirmed that the Geology Department has put together a team of personnel from the Forestry Department, firefighters, and local tour guides to embark on a 7-hour hike to investigate the cause of heavy billows of smoke that have been emitting from the Sleeping Giant mountain situated on the Hummingbird Highway near Hershey’s Cacao Farm in southern Belize. The mountain takes its name from the appearance of a giant on its back in a sleeping position.

One source from the Forestry Department stated that they were only informed of the strange occurrence late Tuesday evening but that they hope by Wednesday they might be able to have a better understanding of what is occurring, “Then once they have determined if its geothermal, smoke or steam then we can plan accordingly but first we have to wait and see what Geology will come up with.”

Since last week residents living near the area have reported experiencing heavy smoke emitting from the area despite heavy rains. Over the weekend a team of residents managed to hike up to the location where they witnessed intense heat and observed fire on the surface and in some cases smoldering out of the crevice of wet debris on the ground. Additionally, an area measuring about 25 square yards received extensive fire damage, while trees were toppled over, rocks were cracked in half, and trees were split. Belize is entering the rainy season and it has been raining in the area for several days.

Milton Maldonado, Concerned Citizen: “The scene that we are concerned about for the past ten days is that we have observed a smoke coming out from the base of the Sleeping Giant mountain. Some other citizens have also visited the area and they have said and reported to us that they’re seeing like molten rock at the base of this mountain. We don’t know, we’re not sure exactly what it is at the moment but yes they are saying that it is not a usual fire, it seems that it’s something more than just a fire. So the smoke is very visible from far. These days as you know there has been a lot of rain pouring and the rain has not been able to extinguish this fire so we believe it may be something else and we’re not sure what it is but you know it’s concerning. Some of them are suspecting that it can be a dormant volcano and they are afraid that it might just erupt and they will have to run and fear for their lives. At the moment the smoke is not that dense I would say that it is affecting them at the moment but yes they are kind of fearing that it is a volcano.”

Smoke Sleeping Giant Mountain

Director of the Geology and Petroleum Department, Andre Cho, stated in a broadcast interview that based solely on the videos and pictures they’ve received taken from the scenic Belize Hummingbird Highway, there is the possibility of hydrothermal activity but they will get a better idea when they visit the site, provided that they can navigate through the difficult jungle terrain. If accessibility proves difficult, they may have to trek the area when the rains let up. However, he says that there may be some geological activity, given that further in southern Belize there are hot springs.

Some residents in the area theorise that it could be a meteorite that’s fallen to earth.

But Cho said that the rains would have extinguished any fallen meteorite forest fires. His theory is that it could be steam rising from a geological occurrence. And while it would be a new occurrence in Belize’s southern mountains it’s something he says isn’t uncommon in other parts of the world such as the geysers at Yellowstone Park.

The Ministry of Natural Resources has sent out a press release 17 June stating that “The Geology and Petroleum Department, in conjunction with the Forest Department, has commenced an investigation into the cause of the event occurring in the area of the Sleeping Giant Mountain, near St. Margaret’s Village on the Hummingbird Highway. At present the cause or source of the plumes is unknown. The investigations will be concluded during the next few days and at that time the public will be informed as to the cause and any actions to be taken.”

The press release indicates that government does not wish for the media and public to scrutinise the area, warning that “The ministry advises the public to cease visitation to the area in the interest of safety until the joint investigation is concluded as there may be natural hazards and other safety risks that need to be determined.”

Anthony Chanona

Senator Anthony Chanona, manager of Blue Mountain Farms, situated at the foot of the Sleeping Giant Mountain, told the media that his family has lived at the farm for over 60 years but none of them has ever witnessed such strange events before . Chanona recalled that last Tuesday, following a huge lightning storm, the following morning he and his farmhands were out working in the fields when they observed a blue plume of smoke rising from the thick underbrush on the mountainside. Chanona said that they found the occurrence very strange because, despite witnessing heavy downpours of rain over the past few days, the plume of smoke just got thicker, while the fire continues to expand and torch the side of the mountain. Chanona said that on Sunday two of his farmhands and two other workers from a nearby farm visited the site to “My farmhand told me that they spent an hour at the site, taking it all in, and what he explained to me is that he observed like there was a crevice in between the ravines and there was smoke coming out from between that crevice. He couldn’t see the source of the smoke because it was covered with about three or four feet of debris and there was intense heat so they couldn’t get any closer than they did. He said that rocks and trees were split in half, while trees were toppled over and the underbrush was flattened. He explained that it would seem to be something of great impact that hit that ground. I asked him what the smoke smelt like and he said that it smelt like regular smoke or wood burning . He said that he didn’t smell anything sulfuric,or pungent. He just smelt like burning wood and burning leaves and that it let off a light hazy blue smoke. There was also a fire down below the ravine but they could not get any closer to getting to the bottom of the ravine to see what the source of the fire was. One thing of interest that he shared that caught my attention was that going to the area, the ground itself was extremely hot.”

That fire from what we have been told has expanded over the mountainside over the past few days and has consumed a large portion of forest in the area, despite a heavy and consistent downpour. Residents say that they are only aware that it is a fire because at night they could see the wind fanning the red embers in the distance, lighting up the night sky. “ It is really a phenomenon in the sense of how it actually started. I for one have come to the conclusion based on what has been explained to me that it was something from above rather than something from below. But then again everybody has their own theory, and so that is why we need the experts from the Geology Department to determine what exactly is causing it,” Chanona remarked.

Sleeping Giant Mountain Mystery Solved

On 19 June 2021 a joint team comprised of geologists and the engineer from the Geology and Petroleum Department, forest rangers from the Forest Department, and guides-cut men from St. Margaret’s Village visited the area near the Sleeping Giant Mountain range that has been emitting plumes of smoke.

The team found no evidence of any geological activity at the site, and none of the gases normally found at geothermal vents or fumaroles were present. Radiation levels were normal.

The Forest Department found the cause or source of the plumes of smoke to be a deep smoldering detritus fire, possibly ignited from a lightning strike at the site, which occurred around 8 June 2021. The area is located on top of a ridge comprised of Paleozoic non-volcanic basement rocks, and is covered by a thick mat of detritus or decaying organic matter and dead trees which are fueling the continuous slow burning or smoldering. At the time of the visit, the area affected was approximately 100 meters long and 40 meters wide. The Forest Department is monitoring this slow burning fire to determine the best course of action.