Wildfires continue to rage in Aberdare Forest two weeks on

The fire has destroyed over 15,000 acres of the Aberdare National Park. [Courtesy, Standard]

For the second week, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers and volunteers are fighting fierce fires in Aberdare Forest.

The fire, which started on February 6, has destroyed over 15,000 acres of the Aberdare National Park.

The smoke billowing from the ranges can be seen from as far as Amboni village in Kieni Constituency.

KWS Director General Erastus Kanga said the rangers were working to control the fires which had consumed large tracts of moorland.

Speaking after meeting top officials in the Mt Kenya and Aberdare Ecosystem regions, Kanga confirmed that two people had died in incidents related to the forest fires.

"When we were mobilising our teams on February 7, we lost one ranger and one fence attendant on their way to the fire scene," he said.

The fire has been raging from Satima, with close to 20,000 acres lost.

"The Aberdare moorlands are dry and windy which means the fires are moving faster and are more difficult to contain, but we are working round the clock to stop them spreading," he said.

Kanga noted that the fires have a significant impact on increasing the desertification of the moorlands, which affects the ability of the area to hold more water to release into the rivers.

"We have engaged several partners in our firefighting efforts, including the Kenya Forest Service, National Youth Service, Mt Kenya Trust and local communities. The County Government of Nyandarua has assisted us with water bowsers to ferry water to the forest to help put out the fire," he said.

The Aberdare is the third-highest mountain range in Kenya, reaching a summit of just over 4,000 metres

The rangers said they had established the cause of the fires to be illegal human activity and they were making follow ups to bring the culprits to justice.

Forest fires have become a major concern for environmentalists with several incidents happening every year, leading to loss of hundreds of acres of biodiversity.

Last year in February, at least over 1,359 acres of the Aberdare ranges were destroyed by forest fires.

Over the weekend, the KWS rangers had to put out fires in Ruma, Hell's Gate and Mt Kenya National Parks.

"We have managed to contain the fires within these three parks, the only park where the fires are still raging is the Aberdare. The major cause of the fires is drought because it is very dry," he said.

The long periods of drought within moorlands and forests lead to dry brush which escalates the incidents of fires within our parks.

Kanga said the long-term effect was loss of biodiversity and habitat, as well as loss of the diversity of the species living in the moorland and forest.

"While in the savannas, the fires are often used by nature to manage the habitat, this is not the case in forests were the devastation has long lasting effects," he warned.

The KWS boss warned that the economic impact of the fires in the Aberdare and Mt Kenya Forests would have a ripple effect on the rest of the country.

"These two areas are key water towers from which rivers feeding the Sasumuwa and Ndakaini dams are sourced. The dams are key sources of water for Nairobi City supporting 70 percent of the country's GDP. The drying up and lack of water from the Aberdares is a threat to the county's economy," he said.

He said the water towers were key to the access of water for the country and the hydro generation capacity of the dams such as the seven forks dams.

Kanga called on Kenyans to invest more into these two forests and ensure they secure the resources.

So far the Wildlife service have yet to take stock of the loss of wildlife, in the fires but Kanga noted several plants, small animals and insects may have been lost in the fire.

"Majority of the larger animals have managed to run away from the fire but we shall conduct a comprehensive audit once we contain the fire," he said.

The KWS boss said the community should be on alert during the dry season to alert the rangers on any activity that could lead to fires in the forest.

He lauded the local community for providing volunteers to work alongside the KWS rangers to control the fires.

"The community are the first line of defence against the fires spreading and have played a key role in helping us control the spread of the flames," he said.

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