Dar es Salaam/Arusha — Natural Resources and Tourism minister Hamisi Kigwangalla yesterday appealed for drinking water and food for some 500 people battling a fire on Mount Kilimanjaro.
"For anyone who wishes to assist, we need water and food for 500 people!" Dr Kigwangalla wrote on Twitter.
"We need prayers from all Tanzanians for our firefighters in the field. We won previous battles through prayers, and I believe we shall also win this one," he added.
Meanwhile, as the blaze which has been raging on Mount Kilimanjaro is coming under control, the Tanzania National Parks Authority (Tanapa) has opened up on how to address such tragedies.
Dr Allan Kijazi, the conservation commissioner general, said plans had been afoot to upgrade the fire fighting capacity even before the tragedy.
That was to include purchasing a helicopter for the purpose; fire tenders and constructing water ponds within the protected areas that are deemed fire-vulnerable.
Speaking from Marangu - where he is leading the conservation agency's team - he said the blaze had been put under control by 85 to 90 percent by late yesterday.
"If all goes well, we expect the remaining pockets of fire will be completely extinguished by Thursday evening," he told The Citizen over the phone.
However, Dr Kijazi said fire fighters were still facing a challenge of strong winds and the tinder-dry vegetation which easily caught fire fanned by strong winds.
"It (fire) has been confined to the semi-arid alpine zone. The grass has heavy undergrowth, so fire can spread undetected. This is the problem. You can put out the fire here - and then you see it erupt over there," he said.
He added that plans to purchase a helicopter for fire-fighting have been on the cards for some time, and a budget has been prepared for that. However, this needs final government approval to implement.
Under new financial arrangements, revenues collected from tourists by conservation institutions such as Tanapa must be remitted to the Treasury, from which expenditures must then be sought.
Dr Kijazi said the helicopter option would be revisited - although it may not be the solution.
"Mount Kilimanjaro is often cloudy. Fighting a fire using an aircraft is feasible when the conditions are also favourable.
"This was not the case on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon due to heavy cloud cover. It is now that the mountain is visible - but dusk is also setting in," he explained.
The Tanapa boss - who doubles as the deputy PS for Natural Resource and Tourism ministry - added that the mountain's steep terrain is also not favourable for vehicle driven-fire tenders.
During his visit, Dr Kigwangalla directed Tanapa to devise strategies to fight recurring fire outbreaks on Mount Kilimanjaro, one of Tanzania's leading tourist destinations.
These, according to the minister, had to include purchasing a helicopter which can easily locate pockets of fires both on open terrain and in poorly accessible ravines.
A statement issued by Pascal Shelutete, the Tanapa spokesperson, said by yesterday the fire had burned 28 square kilometres of high-altitude grassland/shrubland.
That is equivalent to one per cent of the 17,000 square kilometre mountain area which also doubles as the Kilimanjaro National Park.
Dr Kigwangalla was told that the source of the fire this time was still being investigated - although initial reports had it that it started at one of the tourists' camps on the mountain.
Yesterday it was reported it had destroyed 12 huts used by mountain climbers, two toilet structures and two solar energy gadgets.