By Kizito Makoye
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (AA) - Tanzania deployed troops Tuesday in an attempt to help firefighters and volunteers contain a raging wildfire on Mount Kilimanjaro and save flora and fauna surrounding Africa’s highest mountain peak.
“The Tanzania People’s Defense Force (JWTZ) would like to issue this press statement that following the outbreak of a fire which continues to rage within Kilimanjaro National Park, the Chief of Defense Forces General Jacob John Mkunda has ordered the military to participate in the operation to contain the spreading fire,” Tanzania’s military said in a statement signed by Lt Col. Gaudence Gervas Ilonda, the acting director of information and public relations.
The fast-spreading wildfire, believed to be fueled by high winds and recurrent drought spells, has been raging for nearly two weeks.
The fire erupted in the Karanga area -- a stopover used by tourists and hikers, and efforts to contain it have since been underway, authorities said.
According to the statement, military personnel have already arrived in the drought-hit Siha and Mwika areas in the Kilimanjaro region ready to participate in the ongoing operation.
“JWTZ will fully participate in the exercise in conjunction with other security forces, various stakeholders and the people to ensure that the fire is contained before it inflicts more damage to the park,” the statement said.
The Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA), which oversees the park within which the mountain is perched, said the roaring flames have destroyed more than 300 hectares of mountain forests, although the authorities did not disclose the direct impact on tourism.
Tanzania’s Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Pindi Chana, who is leading the effort to put off the fire, said more than 500 people including firefighters and local civilians have been battling the blaze.
“The work has been made more difficult by drought conditions and winds, but we are trying our very best to put it out,” she told Anadolu Agency.
Mount Kilimanjaro is a unique attraction drawing hundreds of tourists every year. The tourism sector, which accounts for 17% of Tanzania’s GDP, is likely to suffer, according to local analysts.
- Climate change, human impact
Kilimanjaro, the world’s tallest free-standing mountain at 5,895 meters (19,341 feet) above sea level, is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and human activities.
The mountain, which attracts about 50,000 tourists every year, has frequently braved fire incidents.
Wildfires and rampant illegal logging have encroached on the ecosystem around the park and disturbed a forest belt around the mountain area, said local authorities.
According to Constancia Kilandeka, a local resident in Siha, the fire has been raging at night, destroying many hectares of forest.
“I am quite worried because our farms are surrounded by the forest,” Kilandeka said.