Puzzle of fierce forest fire in Laikipia

Loldaiga fire

More than 10,000 acres of the Loldaiga Hills have been destroyed in the fire reported to have started three days ago.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

Explosives could have started the devastating fire that continues to ravage Loldaiga Hills in Laikipia County,  where British soldiers have been training.

The safety of wildlife remains a major concern as wildfire ravages acres of Loldaiga Conservancy, home to thousands of animals including critically endangered species.

More than 10,000 acres of the Loldaiga Hills have been destroyed in the fire reported to have started three days ago.

The British army runs joint exercises with Kenyan soldiers in the northern part of Laikipia and has a base in  Nanyuki.

British troops and employees of the conservancy were still battling the fire last evening.

The conservancy is being used as training grounds by British Soldiers under the British Army Training Unit in Kenya (Batuk).

The Saturday Nation established that the fire was caused by the soldiers while on practice and it spread so fast they were unable to control it.

Sources say the fire started after an improvised explosive device  exploded.

A Kenyan soldier who is privy to the matter said that putting out the fire had become a challenge because the explosives caused respiratory and eye irritation similar to what is caused by teargas canisters.

“It is becoming extremely hard for us to put off the fire because the fumes are causing respiratory irritation,” the soldier said.

A statement by the British High Commission said investigations had been launched to ascertain the cause of the fire.

“Our priority is to urgently assist the local community where they have been impacted. We are putting all our resources into containing the fire and are working closely with the Kenyan authorities to manage the situation,”  said the statement, adding that 350 troops had been deployed to beat the fire and double the width of fire breaks.

Three helicopters and a crop-sprayer were dousing the fire. Four water tankers were also deployed in the affected areas.

There were reports that up to five elephants could have been killed in the fire but Kenyan and British authorities remained with information on the extent of the damage, with journalists were barred from the operation.

A tweeter identifying himself as a British Army appeared to brag on social media that an elephant had been killed in an earlier fire started by soldiers.

The post and the soldier are now subject of investigations, the High Commission said

“We are extremely concerned by a social media post by a member of British Army and it is being investigated.” 

The reports by a section of British media claimed that the earlier fire was reportedly started by a flare as soldiers tried to scare away elephants. The second fire, currently being fought, is said to have been started by soldiers as “they were cooking”.

Kenya Wildlife Service said rangers on the ground were yet to locate any carcasses of elephants in the areas where the fire had been put out.

The Nation has learnt that the soldiers have been using live explosives during their training exercises.

Local residents said that fires are rampant whenever the soldiers train in the conservancy.

Authorities however maintain that the cause of the fire is yet to be established.