Strong winds blamed for Kenya forest fire

Forest rangers and volunteers battled flames and strong winds on Sunday to stop a fierce fire raging across Kenya’s Aberdare national park for nearly 24 hours.

The blaze broke out on Saturday night, according to an official working for Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the government body in charge of national parks, who said the fire was “moving very fast”.

“It is on the grasses, it is spreading and very windy,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity, explaining that he was not authorised to speak to media.

“We have mobilised the community and staff around and today they have really tried their best… it is only that they were overwhelmed.”

The park’s name was etched in history when Britain’s Elizabeth II, then a princess on a visit to Kenya, received news of her father’s death while staying at the Treetops hotel, a remote game-watching lodge built high into a tree in the Aberdare forest.

Rhino Ark, a conservation charity in Kenya, said on Twitter that it had deployed helicopters to conduct aerial surveys of the area to estimate the extent of damage to the forest cover.

The Mount Kenya Trust, a body set up to conserve the country’s forests, said Sunday that a team had “headed up to help with the bushfires in the Aberdares.

“They will camp and hit the fires at first light,” it said on Twitter.

The park lies some 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of the capital Nairobi.

Located in the Aberdare mountain range, the park is home to spectacular waterfalls and lush bamboo jungles as well as a variety of wildlife including leopards, elephants and critically endangered black rhinos.

The Aberdares are the third highest mountain range in Kenya, reaching a summit of just over 4.000 metres (over 13,100 feet).

In recent days, concern has grown over a contentious proposal before parliament which could allow politicians to determine if public forest can be carved out and handed over to private interests.

The amendment to the Forest Conservation and Management Act –- reforms passed after decades of rampant land clearing — has roused significant community anger and sparked fears that it could result in unchecked logging and environmental destruction. -AFP

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