Fresh blaze stokes raging inferno in Mt Kenya Forest

Tuesday March 20 2012

Police and Kenya Wildlife Service officers put out fire in Mount Kenya forest on March 19, 2012. Photo/ JOSEPH KANYI

Photo/ JOSEPH KANYI/NATION Police and Kenya Wildlife Service officers put out fire in Mount Kenya forest on March 19, 2012.  

By JOHN NJAGI [email protected]

The raging fire in Mt Kenya Forest intensified on Tuesday following another outbreak in previously unaffected areas.

Environmentalists on Tuesday warned that the massive destruction of grassland in parts of Mt Kenya and Aberdare forests was likely to affect the flow of water from streams that originate in the area.

Eastern Forest Conservancy head Samuel Ihure said the fresh blaze at a farm in Ontoriri in eastern Kenya could have been started by workers.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) assistant director in charge of mountain conservation Robert Njue said a team would assess the damage once the fire is put out in a week’s time. (SEE IN PICTURES: Mt Kenya fire)

“We expect to have put out the fire in a week unless the rains come earlier,” he said, adding the cost of the inferno could run into billions.

The Meteorological Department predicts that the long rains will start in a week, helping to put out the fire that has left a massive trail of destruction in two of the country’s vital water towers.

Another fire destroying bamboo plantations on the Chogoria side, also in eastern Kenya, is being fought by Kenya Forest Service and KWS teams with assistance from about 200 residents.

KFS Central Highlands head John Wachihi said fire fighters were fetching water from nearby streams to put out the fire that had spread to the roots of trees.

Mr Njue said the moorland diversity helps in the formation of streams that feed into major rivers.

The rivers supply water for irrigation and domestic use as well as hydro-electric power generation.

“The rich biodiversity helps tap and retain water, leading to formation of streams that flow down the mountain,” he said.

He said the destruction of the moorland is likely to result in the drying up of streams, with a devastating effect on agriculture and power generating capacity.

Reduced water levels

Residents living downstream of some of the rivers that flow from Mt Kenya Forest are already complaining of reduced water levels.

Narumoru councillor Sammy Ndung’u said water levels in River Narumoru and River Nairobi, that flow directly from the mountain had been affected.

“Since the fire started, we have experienced water shortages as the rivers have almost dried up,” he said, adding that some families were being forced to walk long distances in search of the precious commodity.

Conservationists said the scenic beauty of the moorland that attracts tourists to the mountain had been reduced to a dark, smouldering landscape.