Kenya — The Government has lost more than Sh65 million worth of natural resources in the ongoing forest fires.
The Minister for Forestry and Wildlife Noah Wekesa said the blazes had destroyed forests covering more than 4,651 hectares in the Mau Complex.
Dr Wekesa said that arsonists had lit the fires intentionally.
“These fires were started by arsonists who ignited 10 fires simultaneously in Nyandarua-Kipipiri,” Wekesa told The Standard.
He said ten suspects have been arrested as investigation continues. If found guilty, they will face a five-year jail term or a Sh50,000 penalty for arson.
The minister said efforts to battle the fires were hindered by incapacity in fire fighting equipment. He sought deployment of military personnel to reinforce the teams on the ground in battling the fire. He also blamed the increased fires on the dry spell.
Meanwhile, about 28,000 hectares of what was once Mau water catchment vegetation has been laid bare.
Fires, which have been burning since Monday last week, have consumed forest produce estimated at Sh15 million, says head of Mau Conservancy Mr Cosmas Ikiugu.
The forests affected that cover about 1,000 hectares are Nessuit, Sururu and Logoman, in Nakuru.
Another 1,000 hectares have been destroyed in Koibatek, including Sabatia and Kiptuget forests.
On the Narok side, the blaze destroyed 500 acres at the Masai Mau Forest, the head of Mau Forest Joint Security Command, Mr Tuqa Jirmo said.
Addressing the Press after visiting Kiptuget Forest that was still burning, Ikiugu said the fire was difficult to contain.
“This is the worst fire we have had in the last 10 years,” he said.
He said wild fires occur on a small magnitude after four years or so, but the dry spell seems to have aggravated the situation.
“We normally get the long rains from March 15 but this year it has delayed,” he said.
Ikiugu said there was 400,000 hectares of forest cover under the Mau Complex but the gazetted area comprises 300,000 hectares.
In Masai Mau, Mr Jirmo said efforts to put out the fire were hampered by strong winds and the fire fighters were not well equipped.
The fires have reportedly killed some wild animals.
“We have decided to deal with it at night when winds are not strong, and with the help of communities living near the forest,” he added.
Rift Valley PC Noor Hassan Noor said evidence found in some places pointed at arson and negligence. He said they found tyres tied around bamboo shoots and appealed to the public to be alert and prevent the fire from spreading to their homes.
In Koibatek District, the wildfires have spread to four forest stations but efforts by security forces and the public have contained it in at least two forests.