Kenya — Ten people have been arrested over the wild fires that continue to destroy key forests in Kenya.
Already, some 4,651 hectares of forest were reported to have been destroyed on Tuesday, with the government estimating that the losses are more than Sh65 million.
The area affected by the blaze, according to surveyors, is equivalent to Nairobis entire Eastlands area.
The worst hit areas are those within the Mau Complex, including Koibatek, Nakuru, Nyandarua and Kericho. Others are Makueni, Trans-Nzoia, Chuka, Meru, Nyeri and Kiambu districts.
Cases of fires were on Tuesday still being reported in bamboo forests in Chogoria and Chuka areas. There were reports that the fires were spreading towards Kirinyaga District.
Other areas that were still experiencing fires included the Gathiuru forest in Nyeri, Aberdares in Nyandarua-Kipipiri and Kaptuget in Koibatek.
The government on Tuesday deployed a combined force of 4,500 personnel from the Kenya Army, Kenya Forest Services, National Youth Service, Administration Police, the Provincial Administration and members of the Community Forest Associations to assist in putting out the fires.
Battling the flames
It has also mobilised three aircraft, including one helicopter, to direct officers battling the flames from the air.
As the government swung into action to contain the fires, Forestry and Wildlife minister, Dr Noah Wekesa, said they lacked adequate facilities to effectively fight the blazes. We are unable to effectively cover some areas which have been described as rough, with deep valleys, said Dr Wekesa at a news conference in Nairobi.
It is, therefore, difficult to access them without sophisticated equipment. However, we have asked for fire fighting equipment from various local authorities to assist, he added.
The minister spoke moments before undertaking an extensive tour of the affected areas to assess the situation. Dr Wekesa pointed an accusing finger at those residing in the forests, saying they may have deliberately started the wild fires.
Evidence collected from some of the scenes indicated that they were started right in the middle of forests, as opposed to the periphery, said the minister.
These areas mainly composed of indigenous trees, plantations and bushes contain a substantial accumulation of inflammable hazardous materials which are susceptible to fires.
Said Dr Wekesa: These factors have greatly heightened the forest fire danger, thus making it easy to start fires, encouraging its spread and making it extremely difficult to suppress it once ignited.
At the same time, he said he could not rule out the possibility of a political motive especially coming at a time when the government has been spearheading proposals to remove people from the Mau Forests in its latest bid to conserve the complex.
Irresponsible utterances by politicians from this area, inciting people not to vacate the forests are also to blame for this mess, said the minister. Dr Wekesa sounded a warning that those found guilty of this crime would either be jailed for one year or pay a fine of Sh50,000, or both.
Earlier, the Forestry Minister who went on an aerial tour of forests said more than 30,000 hectares worth Sh330 million had been destroyed. He said although the fires were still spreading and the damage was extensive, they had been brought under control in most of the areas.