Fire Engulfs Kenyan Volcano, Traps Animals

Fire Engulfs Kenyan Volcano, Traps Animals

23 March 2009

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Kenay —

Flames leapt off the summit of one of Kenya’s best-known mountains on Sunday as a bush fire razed the dry slopes and sent wildlife fleeing.

Residents near Mount Longonot, an extinct volcano in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, said the blaze, which began on Saturday, might have been caused by illegal charcoal-burners.

“It’s the biggest fire I have ever seen here in the last 10 years,” said Charles Mburu, from nearby Longonot town.

Fires are common around Longonot, and in other parts of the east African nation, during dry periods.

Kenya is suffering a drought this year that has parched the landscape, left farmers facing ruin, and contributed to hunger the government says is affecting 10 million people.

Zebras, buffaloes, antelopes, gazelles and giraffes fled the national park around Mount Longonot, locals said, crossing a highway and moving through residential areas to reach safety.

Snakes and smaller animals inhabiting Longonot’s deep crater, like rabbits and mongooses, looked certain to die as flames and smoke spread over the rim.

Park warden Peter Muthusi said several dozen rangers, dousing the flames with fire extinguishers and beating them with branches, were trying to stop the fire spreading off the mountain, but were hindered by the dry conditions.

“The animals inside the crater will be affected as they have no place to escape to,” he told Reuters.

Most visitors to Kenya are familiar with Longonot from the road or air. It rises out of the Maasai plains, northwest of Nairobi, to dominate the landscape and is popular with trekkers.

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