Thursday, October 15, 2020

Serious wildfires continue [updated]

This morning's Sentinel-2 image of Kilimanjaro reveals the seriousness of fires burning since Sunday, high on the mountain (bands 12, 11, and 4). Reports suggest the fire was started accidentally along the Marangu Route. Early reports from TANAPA expressed premature optimism that "the fire is already under control" (14 Oct. via @tzparks), yet Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism, Hamisi Kigwangalla, is quoted in the NY Times today:  "the task is harder and bigger than it is thought to be".

On the false color image above, note the Reusch Crater. Snow and ice appear royal blue, with burning areas in yellow-red. This is a very serious, extensive fire! Smoke is visible being blown westward from the fires, burning at an elevation above 3000 m. The dominant vegetation type at this level is giant heather (Erica excelsa), which ecologist Andreas Hemp describes as "an obvious fire sign" which "enhances the fire risk, as even fresh Erica wood burns well". As highlighted in a UNEP posting based on Hemp's work, "nearly 15% of Kilimanjaro’s forest cover was destroyed by fire since 1976 and was replaced by Erica bush which extended its total area by 5km2 (mainly downslope)."

The upper portion of the popular Marangu Route is shown in green, passing Horombo Huts where some fire damage may have occurred. One updated account today (here) quotes Minister Kigwangalla as saying that yesterday's rebound "destroyed the Horombo Tourist Camp, including 12 huts, two toilets, and solar equipment". The mountain's primary descent route past Barafu Camp is also shown, appearing to be threatened by both fire and smoke.

We await first-hand reports from the mountain, and welcome any additional information.

[UPDATE 10/16:  Our friend Timba (Travel Consultant in Moshi) sent a link depicting Carbon Monoxide concentration, via the Earth website. Although the screenshot below does not show the data well, note the value for Kilimanjaro of 13,116 parts per billion by volume (high enough to cause chronic problems with long-term exposure - from CO alone).]