KDF deployed in last minute rush to end Mt Kenya forest fire

An aerial shot of the fire that had consumed over 80,000 acres of forest land in Mt. Kenya as at Wednesday. [Olivia Murithi, Standard]

Troops from the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) have been deployed to Mt Kenya Forest to help fight a wild fire that has been razing the forest for a week now.

The officers arrived today in four lorries to join a group of at least 120 rangers and community members who have been fighting the inferno.

Mount Kenya National Park Senior Warden Isaac Mugo said one group of the officers has been deployed to Maarani area where the fire is spreading towards Nyeri County side and the other one has joined a group of community members at Chogoria gate whose main purpose is to create a break to avoid fire spreading to the bamboo forest.

“We are doing everything possible to put out the fire but we are equally facing challenges from the strong winds that are blowing in the mountain,” said Mr Mugo.

The fire, he said, has now affected Tharaka Nithi, Embu, Kirinyaga and its now spreading towards Nyeri County.

By Wednesday, 80,000 hectares of moorland was consumed by the fast-spreading fire, and Mr Mugo said the figure might now be close to 100,000 hectares though he didn’t have an official figure.

“We are facing the same challenges that we started with, but we have been able to secure the campsites and other facilities in the forest,” said Mr Mugo adding that they were still mobilising members of public from Chogoria to join them in putting out the fire.

During their assessment tour of the forest on Wednesday, Chief Conservator Monica Kalenda and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Director General Professor Michael Musyoki promised to bring in tents to settle the firefighters at the areas of fire but this is still to happen.

The firefighters are spending their nights in Chogoria town and travelling to the forest in the morning.

This has affected efforts to put out the fire consindering that the best hours to fight fire especially in the windy-Mt Kenya forest is between 6-9am which can be hardly met by those spending in Chogoria town.

Ms Kalenda has since called on members of public and other stakeholders to be on alert to suppress any form of fire that may affect the ecosystem which benefits the entire country.

She said they were expecting more of such fires now that the weatherman forecasted that there will be three more weeks of dry weather before the short rains begin.

This means that the fire season that was declared in January by the conservator will be prolonged.

So far, 114 fire incidences have been reported in the country affecting about 15 Counties.

The Conservator has encouraged all the ecosystems teams to form a special Disaster Management Unit that will be dealing with such emergencies.

“We are also encouraging a mutli-agency approach to the Mt Kenya fire since it affects all of us,” she said.

The cause of the fire which started near lake Helys is yet to be established with the officers suspecting honey gatherers and illegal poachers.

People living near the forest have however ruled this adding that honey gathers may not be the cause since they know it will affect their beehives.

They said those who plant bhang in the forest are the main suspects in this case.

The fire has paralysed tourism activities into the forest with visitors especially those using Chogoria gate being forced to reschedule their visits.