The prevailing dry spell, occasioned by depressed rainfall during the last October to December 2010 rainfall season, has led to heightened cases of forest fires in the last one month. Notably, Eburu and Menengai forests in Nakuru forest zone, Chuka and Ontulili forests in Meru forest zone, Sirimon Forest in Mount Kenya, Mumbaka Hill in Busia Forest Zone, Mt Elgon Forest, Kitale Town Forest and Karura Forest in Nairobi forest zone have all been affected by forest fires. Ol Bollosat forest in Nyandarua forest zone has also been affected by fire, and a loss of 75 acres of forest and grass have been destroyed. In most cases, illegal charcoal kilns and arsonists are to blame for starting the said fires which are further fuelled by strong winds and dry weather.
The current dry spell in most part of the country marks the beginning of the first of the two fire seasons experienced in Kenya. The dry season of January to March and August to September are characterized by high temperatures and therefore low humidity which makes forests and other vegetation areas highly susceptible to fire out breaks. In view of the foregoing, KFS has deemed it necessary to declare a National Fire Season with effect from 1st February 2011 until the onset of rains.
According to the Director Kenya Forest Service, Mr. D.K. Mbugua, “the Service has set its emergency systems on high alert to ensure a swift and coordinated effort to deal with any fire threat. We hope that the general public will remain vigilant and report all potential threats to the nearest KFS office.” In the past one year, KFS has increased its capacity to handle forest fires through intensive staff training on fire management and emergency response. Forest adjacent communities have also been receiving training through the KFS Fire Department. In addition, through funds from Kazi Kwa Vijana Project, youths have been engaged to make fire breaks within various forests such as Dzombo Forest in Kwale, which assist to control the spread of fire.
All precautionary measures are being observed at all forest stations country wide and KFS officers will work in close collaboration with the nearest Administration Office, Police Station, Government Departments and Private Institutions. All officers on annual leave have since been recalled, and annual leave for all officers has been suspended. All fire watch points are being manned on a full time basis and burning of vegetation near or inside forest areas during this season is no longer permitted.
All forest arsonists will be arrested and prosecuted in line with the Forest Act 2005, which advocates for protection of forests from human destruction. The Grass Fires Act will also be observed strictly. In addition, the new Constitution emphasizes the need to maintain ten percent forest cover, and to achieve this there is need to conserve the already existing forests.
The Forest Act 2005 recognizes the role of communities in co -management of forests, which are an important national resource. Foresters will work to sensitize forest adjacent communities and the general public on the need for prevention, detection and suppression of fire outbreaks. Hence, members of the public are called upon to be extra vigilant and report all threats to forests and fire outbreaks. The hotline number is 020 250 2508.
Press Release By KFS Corporate Communications Department