Forest on Fire!
While February and March brings us some of the finest weather for visitors on safari, for the local population of humans and animals alike it is probably the worst time of the year.
Still lush and green at Christmas, we are now looking out on a dry landscape, wilting bush and sparse grasslands. The days seem longer, the unforgiving warm wind relentlessly wringing out the last drops of moisture left in the surviving vegetation.
Photos courtesy of Bongo Woodley
The animals too appear sluggish, preserving what energy they have left to last until the live giving rains appear in dark rolling clouds on the horizon. There is no trouble from marauding Elephants on the mountain now. The huge pachyderms too prefer to rest deep in the coolness of the valley crevasses of the mountain to stay near streams reduced to a trickle. When the rains come, water will accumulate here fast.
But first another danger looms: Forest fires. While scientists agree that in the course of nature fire plays an important part, roles have changed with the increase of us, the human population. Oftentimes, forests fires are purposely started to gain land for cultivation.
The greatest danger lies in that these burnt lands may be lost to the forest FOREVER and never get the chance to regenerate.
Fighting fires on Mount Kenya has been a major concern for the senior warden-in-charge of the Mount Kenya National Park, Bongo Woodley, and the Forest Department. In the past weeks this challenge has been stressed to the limits. For days and weeks we have seen thick smoke emerge above us burning valuable virgin forest. With limited resources and almost no equipment Bongo’s men are bravely facing each new fire, fighting a losing battle.
Or so we thought, as we watched the fires racing towards us fanned by high winds. That day, fate led Bongo to meet 3 United States Forest Service Wildfire experts that were in the country to help teach a fire-fighting course to members of the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Forest Department, as a part of a United Nations program. Bongo managed to persuade them to follow him, leaving their classrooms and mobilizing their students to help.
In no time Bongo’s men (KWS & FD) were offered equipment and expert guidance as the red wildfire became part of the training exercise of the course.. Soldiers from the nearby Kenya Army barracks came to help and were joined by many civilians.
Bongo spent all the daylight hours at the controls of his Aviat Husky, flying low , braving the wind and smoke to give life saving surveillance over the radio to direct the men on the ground.
Miraculously, they beat the worst of the menace, and, at least for today, the fires are out.
When the first raindrops fall a new life cycle begins. As I write we have had only a little rain, not nearly what is needed. Every day thousands of human faces turn skywards with apprehension. An African saying goes that after the fire comes the rain. We just hope it does not take another fire.
Our very special thank you goes to:
Minoo and Angela Marker for their continued and very generous support.
George and Kathryn Hicker for their very generous donation.
The USFS Wildlfire experts from the Interagency Fire Center in Boise Idaho:
- Tom Wordell
- Ted Mason (“Smoke Jumper”)
- Barb Kennedy
Mr. and Mrs. Tom Curtis Jr. for their kind and unexpected donation.
All the members of the staff of
- The Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy
- The Mount Kenya Safari Club
- The William Holden Wildlife Foundation
That volunteered their services to help put out the various forest fires threatening
the Club and the wild animal breeding areas.
Last, not least, Geoff Stovold for his kind and timely donation.
We are grateful to Bongo Woodley and all our brave men and women here and their American counterparts volunteering help, risking their life in a far away land for the good of us all.
Bongo will see to it that the burnt forest is given a chance to regenerate. Just so long as there is life giving rain.