KINSHASA Bush fires have killed at least eight people and burned down more than 500 homes in 13 villages in the southeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Roman Catholic charity Caritas said Friday.
The fires were lit by peasant farmers, out to hunt game, and have caused “at least 554 burned houses, eight deaths and now four injured people” since August 4 in the Kongolo region of the mining province of Katanga, Ferdinand Kiya of the non-governmental organisation told AFP.
“Up until now, we’ve also been told of other villages but we haven’t yet gone to them,” said Kiya, reached by telephone from Kinshasa. Kongolo is 700 kilometres (435 miles) north of Lubumbashi, the capital of Katanga.
According to Kiya, the alarm was raised in the village of Masanza, where 18 homes went up in smoke. The fire swiftly spread because it is the dry season, a time when farmers also burn their fields to prepare them for a new crop as part of the agricultural cycle.
In the 13 villages swept by fire, there were around 1,200 huts, mainly built of clay with thatched roofing.
“It was the moment when they had finished the harvest. The food was also burned, and they even lost their cooking utensils. Most of them were left with the clothes they had on out in the fields,” Kiya said.
The majority of villagers in the region set bush fires in spite of a law banning this practice in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to Caritas.
“There are a lot of people who don’t know the law and also the poverty that afflicts the population sends them out in search of game.”