Foreign mountaineers evacuate as Kilimanjaro burns for fifth day

Dar es Salaam, Oct. 16, (dpa/GNA) - Tanzanian authorities said on Thursday that they are planning to bring in helicopters to start fighting a fire on Mount Kilimanjaro that has been raging for five days, admitting that extinguishing the blaze is harder than they thought.

"We are still battling the fire. The work is harder than we thought earlier. The challenge is strong winds and dry grass and vegetation," Tourism Minister Hamisi Kigwangalla said on Twitter.
A helicopter has been supporting the operation since Thursday, and officials are trying to get more aircraft to help fight the flames, he said in the evening.

Nonetheless, mountaineering in Kilimanjaro National Park is to "continue as usual," he said.
However, unconfirmed sources said the national park authorities were considering recalling tourists who are still in the mountains.

There are still more than 100 local mountain guides, porters and tourists in the area, according to local estimates from the tourism industry, although no official data was available.

Meanwhile, a camp of international mountaineers had to be evacuated overnight, a tour organizer said.

"Besides my Swiss group, there were five to six other groups who had to break up their tents at midnight," said Henning Schmidt, a German guide on Africa's highest mountain, adding: "The fire is now expanding more and more."

Satellite images show a clear spread of the flames, and a group of Germans, Austrians and Swiss who were climbing the mountain on Thursday reported strong winds and a thick layer of ash that covered their tents.

There was more smoke again in the afternoon, particularly in the south-east.

"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 stop their ascent.

The fire broke out on Sunday and, according to officials, has since destroyed at least 28 square kilometres of bush. Officials have said some 500 people are working to quell the flames.

At 5,895 metres, Kilimanjaro is Africa's highest mountain and also one of Tanzania's landmarks.
The cause of the fire is still unknown.