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Mount Kilimanjaro

Tanzanian firefighters, community battle blaze on Mount Kilimanjaro

View of the fire glow on Mt Kilimanjaro seen from Moshi, Tanzania.
View of the fire glow on Mt Kilimanjaro seen from Moshi, Tanzania. © Jaysadventure via REUTERS

A massive fire has broken out on the south-eastern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, as Tanzanian firefighters were joined by students at the local university in the fight to contain the blaze, according to fire rescue authorities.

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Tanzania National Parks service (TANAPA) said the fire started on Sunday.

“It’s an intense fire that is rapidly spreading, but we’ve sent 80 staff and 110 students to help put out the fire, as well as 64 students who are coming for short pauses to help with firefighters,” says Alex Kisingo, Research chair at the College of African Wildlife Management in Mweka, at the base of the continent’s highest mountain.

The College of African Wildlife Management trains wildlife experts, forest and park rangers, among other professions, and their courses include a module on wild land fire management, Kisingo tells RFI.

“There are some tourists who went up the mountain, but we are taking care that the fire does not affect the routes used by tourists -- they are safe and the trails themselves are safe,” says Kisingo.

The areas and trails that tourists and baggage carriers use, including staff camps and picnic areas, are the first places that the firefighters secure to ensure the tourists’ safety.

“The fire that broke out yesterday on Mount Kilimanjaro in the Whona area, which is a resort for tourists using the Mandara and Horombo routes, is being controlled,” according to a statement by TANAPA.

“TANAPA continues to take every precaution to ensure that the safety of visitors and their facilities is improved without affecting the tourism activities that continue as usual,” it added.

Protecting water source

When fires happen on Kilimanjaro, we take it on as a national emergency, because a lot of communities, both in the villages and the cities, are dependent on water from the mountain—people all the way to the coastal areas of Tanga, and Tangani are dependent on this water,” he says, speaking of the city in the northeast coast of Tanzania as well as a town in Zanzibar.

“So anything that might harm the viability of water, or the drying up of the streams we take as a very serious emergency -- that’s why everybody’s making efforts to go up the mountain to fight the fire right now,” he says.

Not only have the students and staff volunteered, but communities who live in the foothills of the mountain.

“They know at the end of the day that if they don’t put out the fire, the streams down here will be dry. They’ll not have water for their own use or for their agricultural needs,” he adds.

Concern for wildlife

Most of the larger wildlife, including the buffalo, zebras and elephants will either move to higher ground, or flee to the low-lying forests, says Kisingo.

“Reptiles and amphibians will be caught up in the fire…it will definitely destroy a lot of vegetation too,” he says, adding that the plants will explode, so it will be hard for those trying to fight the fire.

“Some of the species endemic to Mount Kilimanjaro may suffer seriously,” he contends.

Fires on Mount Kilimanjaro are nothing new, says Kisingo, who is coordinating the trucks from the college taking people up to fight the fire as well as firefighting equipment and food supplies.

If the weather continues to be sunny, Kisingo says the fire may be put out in a day or two.

“It is nothing like yesterday, there was a lot of wind. We pray that if we get a bit of rain, we’ll be happy, because it will add to what people are already doing up there,” he adds.

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