Alarm sounded over forest fires

Alarm sounded over forest fires

13 January 2009

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Kenya — The Kenya Forest Service has called on Kenyans who live around or near forests to be cautious during this dry spell to avoid causing destructive fires.

Fire Management Officer David Mwanzia said on Monday that most forest fires at this time are caused by charcoal burners, honey hunters, grazers and farmers who use fire to clear their farms.

“Cases have also been reported where criminals and arsonists have set off fires in forests,” Mr Mwanzia said.

He explained that the months of January to March and August to September are the two seasons in the country that experience serious fire outbreaks in forests due to the high temperatures.

“At such times, there is low humidity which makes forests and other vegetation areas highly susceptible to fire outbreaks,” he said.

Mr Mwanzia however assured that the emergency systems at the Forest Service were on high alert to ensure a swift and coordinated effort to deal with any fire threat.

He pointed out that the effects of the dry spell were already being felt in Makueni district, where a fire broke out about two weeks ago consuming 60 hectares of indigenous and 10 hectares of exotic trees in Makuli forest.

“It took more than a week to extinguish that fire and one of the major problems is lack of enough forest guards.”

The Fire Management Officer also said that Kenyans need to join in efforts by the guards to put out such blazes when they occur. Mr Mwanzia also said that fire patrol gangs had been set up to guard against fire outbreaks in all the high risk forest areas.

Other measures that have been set up include distribution and maintenance of fire-fighting equipment, preparation and implementation of fire plans and putting up notices to warn the public of forest fires.

“We have also instructed our field officers to maintain firebreaks in our forests to slow down the spread of forest fires in case of an outbreak in plantation areas,” he said.

The last major fire outbreak was reported in February 2005 and lasted for about a month, destroying over 10,000 hectares of forests in Koibatek, Kericho and Nakuru districts.

It took the combined effort of the Kenya Army, Kenya Wildlife Service and the National Youth Service to control the blaze.

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