NAIROBI, Kenya -- A fire on the slopes of Kenya's tallest mountain is sending elephants and other animals fleeing for their lives, as wildlife agents and British troops fight to put out several fires, officials said yesterday.
The flames have consumed hundreds of acres of forest on Mount Kenya, said Paul Udoto, a spokesman for the Kenya Wildlife Service. The fire has covered the spiky mountain in a haze of smoke.
Tourists staying in mountain lodges are safe, Udoto said, but elephants are among the many animals fleeing. "The elephants fled the area, but they are still within the protected areas of the mountain," Udoto said.
Firefighters said they haven't come across any animal hurt or killed by the fire.
Photos of the fire show small bursts of flame and thick white smoke hanging over the mountain's lower elevations. Mount Kenya is the second-highest peak in Africa, at 17,057 feet.
"There's fires all over the place," said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, the founder of the group Save the Elephants. "It's because of the dryness. But I bet people are setting the fires . . . accidental, but human-generated."
Fires are also burning in the nearby Aberdare National Park. Douglas-Hamilton said the fires will deprive animals of food and he expects some to get caught in the flames.
Mount Kenya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The UN organization describes the region as "one of the most impressive landscapes of Eastern Africa, with its rugged glacier-clad summits, Afro-alpine moorlands and diverse forests."
The fire is burning forest that serves as a water catchment, potentially affecting the region's water supply and hydroelectric dams. Wildlife would also be forced to move, said the deputy warden of Mount Kenya National Park.