Helicopters join in Mt Kenya forest fire fight .

Helicopters join in Mt Kenya forest fire fight .

18 March 2012

published by www.the-star.co.ke

Kenya– Helicopters have been scrambled to fight the raging fires on Mt Kenya which continued for the ninth day running yesterday. The KWS chopper been joined by another one offered by a volunteer, Lady Lori, and are now spraying the forest with water in a bid to contain the fires which have destroyed thousands of acres of indigenous tree.

British Army has provided one chopper which is helping survey the areas affected and airlifting the firefighters at the regions affected. Mt Kenya National Park deputy warden Simon Gitau said hundreds of acreages of indigenous and bamboo forest and moorland were being destroyed despite the efforts by KWS, KFS and over 500 members of the local community to fight the fires.

The fire was still burning at the Upper Burguret and some parts of Gathiuru forest, Narumoru River valley, Chogoria side, along Nairobi River and South Moorland at Sirmon area which is above 11,000 feet above sea level. The whole of western part of Mt Kenya forest between Kabaru and Ontilili areas were all still on fire yesterday. The Kenya and British armies joined in the fight yesterday with Mt Kenya Tourism Circuit providing sleeping bags while Highlands Company providing water for the fire fighters.

However, strong winds continued fuelling the fires with harsh weather also hampering the efforts. The fires which have engufed the tropical rain forest belt has destroyed most of the indigenous trees, thousands of acres of dry grasslands at moorlands and endangered thousands of wild animals in the area. Thousands of indigenous trees and bamboos which are over 100 years old were reduced to ashes and millions of micro-organisms killed as the KWS, KFS and local community tried in vain to put out the fire using choppers, bumper buckets and twigs.

KFS Nyeri zonal manager Muchiri Mathinji said they are forced to mobilise more resources to put out the fires saying strong wind blowing over the area were hampering their efforts. “The fire fighters are now spending the night in the forest. More others are joining them is shifts. Strong winds and heavy terrain are major challenges in fighting the fire. Flames of fire would still be sighted from Narumoru side,” he added.

He added: “Some fires are also burning on top of trees. We urge anybody who can offer any kind of help to come on board to save our forest.”The cause of the fires has not been established but many people suspect it might have been started either by honey gatherers or poachers doing illegal businesses inside the forest. Gitau said fighting fires is a costly adding that more than Sh1 million is needed daily for the exercise. Mathinji lamented that fire engines could not access the scenes of fires because of the rugged and bushy terrain.

Gitau, however, said tourists visiting the mountain for mounteering are welcome because not all areas are affected. He said a Wild Suppression Management Authority should be established to fight the fire whenever it erupts. Mathinji said it is difficult to know exactly how many acres of forest has been destroyed because the wild fires are still raging in different parts. He, however, said hundreds of hectares of forest has been burnt since the fire started last week.

He said the most affected areas include Kabaru, Ontilili, Chogoria, Gathiuru, Nairobi River Valley and Narumoru River Valley among other areas burning indigenous forest trees, grasslands and moorland. “The whole of Kabaru and Ontilili is covered by fire. Police have since joined in to help put out the fire,” said Mathinji. The exercise got a major boost on Saturday when Kenya Police, Kenya Army and British Army joined in the effort to fight the fire off.

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