Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Kenya Forest Service have mounted joint fire fighting operations assisted by personnel drafted in from various fire brigades but the high elevation, lack of helicopters to douse the flames with water or anti-fire chemicals, and difficult access is rendering these genuinely serious efforts almost in vain.
Sources from within KWS blamed individuals seeking to extract honey from natural bee hives for having started the fires, when attempting to smoke out the bees before recovering the highly-valued and prized honey, although there have been suggestions in the local Kenya media that it could have been poachers whose campfire may have burnt out of control.
Some routes for hikes and access to climbs on Mt. Kenya have already been closed for tourists to prevent any visitors and their guides from getting trapped, and it is understood that some climbers had to abandon their plans and return to base as a result of the fires.
A regular source from Nanyuki told this correspondent that the smoke was visible from the Laikipia plains and that according to information they received from KWS, at least 60 hectares have already been completely burned down. The alpine vegetation up Mt. Kenya is fragile at best and following a lack of sufficient rains are dry like cinder.
“This sort of fire damage can take years or maybe even decades to repair itself. Such fires also displace birds, which lose their habitat and grazing for some of the game reaching the higher altitudes. Already the glaciers have reduced by a lot since I was a boy, and this second fire in a year is not good for the biodiversity and not good for tourism also,” said the source in the course of the email exchanges.
He added: “KWS [is] doing all [it] can and [have] even drafted in people from other parks. But the location is not good, not easy to reach, and it takes half a day to even walk up there because no vehicles can reach [there]. And when they reach [there], they have to manually try to create fire breaks or extinguish flames without the help of water. The only real hope is a lot of rain to douse the fires, which shows how difficult it is for KWS to put the fire out.”
No injuries to firefighters have yet been reported though, the one bit of good news in this sad story.