80,000 hectares of Mt Kenya moorland destroyed by blaze

Smoke from fire that has consumed over 80, 000 acres of forest land in Mt. Kenya on February 27, 2019. [Olivia Murithi/Standard]
Thousands of hectares of moorland in Mt Kenya Forest have been destroyed by a fire that started on Saturday.

Speaking yesterday during a visit to assess the situation, Chief Conservator Monica Kalenda said this was the 114th forest fire to be reported in the country since declaration of the fire season in January.

Ms Kalenda said 80,000 hectares of moorland in the mountain had been destroyed so far.

She said she was impressed with the efforts of a multi-agency team, headed by Tharaka Nithi County Commissioner Beverly Opwora, in fighting the fire.

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“We are pleased that the team has managed to contain the fire though not completely. We were coming to see what we can do to help stamp out the fire and one of the things we will do is to have firefighters camp in areas affected by fire for effectiveness,” said Kalenda.

Initially, there had been a challenge as the firefighters were travelling from the forest to Chogoria about 30km away and back again the following day.

“We are appealing to all the stakeholders to be on alert to suppress any form of fire that may affect our ecosystem, which benefits the entire country. We are expecting more of these fires now that the weatherman says we will go for three more weeks before the rain sets in,” said Kalenda.

Honey gatherers

She added that they were investigating the cause of the fire but were not ruling out poachers, honey gatherers and cultivators as some of the possible causes.

So far, Kalenda said, the fire had almost been contained in some parts of Tharaka Nithi and Embu counties and the biggest challenge at the moment was in Kirinyaga County where it was burning on the tree canopies and strong winds were making it hard to extinguish using water.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Director General Charles Musyoki, who had accompanied the conservator, said it was unfortunate they had lost animals and the number of visitors to the forest had reduced following the inferno.

Prof Musyoki said there has been other fires across the country but the one in Mt Kenya had been the most difficult to contain due to strong winds, which also made it difficult for animals to escape.

He said a combined team of 120 rangers, foresters and community members were on the ground fighting the fire, adding that they were optimistic it would be extinguished in the next two to three days.

“We are also making efforts to avoid the fire spreading to the bamboo forest where it can be harder to contain as it burns faster even when it is not dry,” said Musyoki.

In the event of animals moving out of the forest to flee the fire, Musyoki said they had teams of rangers to repulse them, and that they were maintaining a high level of vigilance.

Four helicopters have been deployed to put out the fire.

Kirinyaga Ecosystem Conservator Monica Masibo said the fire started at the Chogoria side of the forest in Tharaka Nithi.

“Yes, the fire was discovered yesterday and it started within the moorland, which generally comprises dry grass therefore making the fire to spread quickly,” said Ms Masibo.

She added that although the fire was mainly concentrated in Chogoria, it could quickly spread to the Embu, Kirinyaga and Nyeri sides of the forest depending on the strength of the wind.

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Mt Kenya ForestForest FireForest conservationKWS