Uganda — Uganda Wildlife Authority has denied reports that it is responsible for starting the fire that gutted Queen Elizabeth National Park, and razed down Kyambura tourist lodge.
“[We] did not start the fire. Our staff were just as shocked when they were alerted that a wild fire had started in the Kyambura area,” said Lillian Nsubuga UWA’s public relations manager in a letter sent to The Observer.
This paper, basing on reports from the communities near the park, reported on Wednesday that UWA staff were responsible for the fire that also gutted Kyambura lodge. Nsubuga further noted that the fire was threatening to destroy the Fig Tree Camp, a location used by tourists to have the best view of the low lying park. She noted that UWA’s staff engaged in a five-hour battle to put out the fire, which they finally did. But, she said, the UWA staff were shocked to find out that minutes later Kyambura Game Lodge was on fire.
“The distance between the Fig Tree House and Kyambura Game Lodge exceeds a kilometre. How the fire could have covered a distance of over one kilometer in mere minutes remains the unanswered question,” Nsubuga said.
“It should be noted that Queen Elizabeth National Park is crisscrossed by many roads such as the Mbarara-Kasese highway, Ishasha road and Katwe Road, among others. Access to various parts of the park by the neigbhouring communities is therefore a guarantee. This is the reason the park experiences wild fires more often than other national parks which are not so open to the public,” she said.
According to Nsubuga, early burning is done towards the end of the rainy seasons when the grass is wet and, therefore, burns slowly and softly. The owners of Kyambura Game Lodge, which was one of the most sought after accommodation spots in the area, however, insist that this fire was started by UWA and are considering taking legal action against UWA.
According to Robert Byakutaga, a director at Kyambura lodge, the fire was started by UWA staff on a sunny Thursday afternoon, February 2, as part of the controlled fire programme where the authority burns the park during the dry season to allow fresh grass to grow during the rainy season. The fire, which started at 10am at the Fig Tree Camp is said to have over powered UWA staff at around 1pm. The fire also spread to the neighbouring communities, Byakutaga said.
It first destroyed a three acre garden of cotton before the strong wind pushed it further over the cliff, burning down the lodge. “Usually when there is fire in the national park, people know it has been lit by the park authority. So, they arenít worried, trusting UWA staff to control it”, Byakutaga told The Observer.
Byakutaga said that when one of the staff at the $310-a-night lodge called the UWA authorities for help, he was told to devise means to control the fire because at the particular moment, everyone had to fend for themselves. Much of the blame has been heaped on Nelson Guma, the new Conservation Area Manager, as he did not involve the community before giving a go-ahead to set parts of the park ablaze. According to Byakutaga, because of the fire, they have had to cancel bookings for over 300 visitors as the lodge will remain closed until December as it undergoes reconstruction.