Forest Fires in East Africa: 28 February 2000

Update from East Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya)

28 February 2000

Emergency aid is rushed to different sites in Ethiopia. On Sunday 27 February 2000 an international appeal for assistance has been distributed by the GFMC to the African fire community.

Next update information will be given on Wednesday 1 March 2000. GFMC will move assistance to Ethiopia 1 March 2000.

Fires in Kenya

GFMC correspondent Michael Calvin reports after returning from Kenya:

There are numerous fires burning in the desert mountains of northern Kenya, in the Ndotos, the Karisias, Ol Nyiro, Kulal, and the Mathews. These mountains contain extensive and important stands of indigenous trees such as pencil cedars, East African yellow-wood, and wild olive. Most of the fires have been started by honey gathers, and others likely started to clear trees and brush for livestock. Altough these forests are in protected reserves they are under tremendous pressure at the moment. Due to drought conditions, the Samburu, Turkana, and Laikipia Masaai have moved their cattle, sheep, and goats up into the forest in a desperate attempt to keep them alive. This increase in human presence has undoubtedly led to an increase in the number of fires. While most of the fires are less than 10 ha, a few are much larger. No firefighting was observed on the fires.

We encountered a smouldering fire underneath a wild olive tree near our campsite on top of the Karisias. Our Kenyan guide, my wife and I put the fire out with shovels and sticks, while our 2 Samburu trackers brought containers of water from a nearby spring. The local Samburu herders thought we were insane and stood around watching in amusement. Our guide explained what we were doing, and asked them why they didn’t put the fires out once they had the honey. They responded that it was too much trouble. We rewarded the 2 Samburu trackers with Smokey Bear pins, which they proudly wore pinned to their red shukas.

click here to enlarge (42 KB)

Fig. 1. The picture shows Kenya firefighting as described by M. Calvin

 The potential for these fires becoming larger is great. At present the ground level fuels are relatively green and moist as they are shaded by an extensive canopy in most areas, but are drying fast. The fires will likely become more active in the next 3 to 4 weeks unless the weather patterns change with the onset of the “long” rains. Fires also are burning in the Aberdare Mountains of central Kenya, in the montane forests, and near the town of Nakuru where action has been taken to keep the fire from spreading. Smoke from the fires in Kenya and Ethiopia is dense and covers a large area of Kenya.

Michael Calvin

GFMC Correspondent
Hout Bay, South Africa

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