Kenyan wildlife park bush fire rages for second day

Kenyan wildlife park bush fire rages for second day

24 February 2008

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Kenya — Using branches to beat back flames, Kenyan rangers and residents struggled for a second day on Saturday to control bush fires that have engulfed a third of one of the nation’s best-known wildlife parks.

At least 100 local citizens joined wildlife officials to help put out the fire, which was accidentally started in a nearby village and has already destroyed large patches of the 188 square km Lake Nakuru National Park.

“We just heard people screaming from afar and we knew it was about the fire, so we came immediately to put it out,” said Dorcas Kafiri, running towards the fire with a branch in hand.

She, like other villagers near to the park, jumped through a fence to come and help.

Hundreds of workers, soldiers and policemen battled the main blaze for 12 hours on Friday, largely containing it. But fresh fires broke out on Saturday morning.

The blaze at one of Kenya’s most popular destinations is another hit to the ailing tourism industry, which has seen declining numbers and profits since a post-election crisis that killed more than 1,000 people.

Lake Nakuru park, normally teeming with U.S., European and other tourists driving around in four-wheel-drive vehicles, has been virtually devoid of visitors since the December 27 vote.

When the fire began, grass parched from a recent lack of rain made fertile fuel. A Reuters reporter saw blackened hills with plumes of smoke behind and fringes of flames moving forward.

Most famous for the hordes of flamingos that gather on its lake shore, the park in central Kenya is home to 450 species including white rhinos, giraffes and lions.

“This was definitely an accident. It was not an act of arson,” said senior warden Charles Muthui, saying a woman from a nearby village started the fire while burning wood. Winds then quickly carried the blaze into the park.

“Tourists don’t want to see fires, they want to see animals,” Muthui said at the park entrance.

Despite the fire, baboons wandered unperturbed around other parts of the park, while some groups of gazelles even trotted over the scorched earth. Rhinos lounged next to a creek.

Game wardens said the fire appeared to have largely spared the wildlife, although a reporter saw a charred turtle.

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