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Foreign mountaineers evacuate Kilimanjaro as fire rages

October 16, 2020

A camp of international mountaineers had to be evacuated after strong winds reignited a massive blaze on Africa's highest mountain. Germans, Swiss and Austrians are among those who had to leave the slope.

Tanzanian firefighters battle the blaze on Kilimanjaro
Image: DW/Veronica Natalis

Tanzanian authorities have announced plans to deploy helicopters and planes to help put out an out of control blaze on Mount Kilimanjaro.

"We are still battling the fire. The work is harder than we thought earlier. The challenge is strong winds and dry grass and vegetation," Tanzanian Minister of Tourism Hamisi Kigwangalla said on Twitter. 

"Once arrangements are completed today we might start using helicopters and planes to tackle the fire," he added.

The blaze, which has been raging for five days, has burned 28 square kilometers (11 square miles) of vegetation and is strongest in the area of Kifunika Hill, officials said. Some 500 people are working to extinguish the flames.

At 19,443 feet (5,926 meters), Kilimanjaro is Africa's highest mountain. 

Read more: Mount Kilimanjaro fire: What is at risk for the local ecosystem?

Flames burning through bush on Mount Kilimanjaro
The fire has scorched at least 28 square kilometers of bush on the mountain, which is home to a number of unique plant and animal speciesImage: DW/Veronica Natalis

Europeans evacuated

A tour organizer said that a camp of international mountaineers also had to be evacuated on Thursday due to the raging fire. 

"Besides my Swiss group, there were five to six other groups who had to break up their tents at midnight," Henning Schmidt, a Kilimanjaro guide from Germany, told the German Press Agency (DPA), adding "the fire is now expanding more and more."

Austrian mountaineers in the area also reported  strong winds and said their tents had become covered with a thick layer of ash. 

"There is too much smoke here: We are afraid of carbon monoxide poisoning," mountain guide Debbie Bachmann told DPA, saying she and her group of tourists would halt their expedition. 

A satellite image shows smoke surrounding Mount Kilimanjaro
Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano and is the highest single free-standing mountain in the world Image: Planet Labs Inc.

Firefighters initially made progress in extinguishing parts of the blaze, but strong winds prompted massive flames on Wednesday. The fire could be seen as far as 18 miles away in the town of Moshi, northern Tanzania. 

The blaze then went on to destroy the Horombo Tourist Camp, including 12 huts, two toilets, and solar equipment, officials said. 

The fire started on Sunday afternoon in the Whona area, a tourist stopover for hikers climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and using the Mandara and Horombo routes. 

The cause of the fire is still unknown, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism said. 

mvb/nm (AP, dpa)