Fires are quite common in the higher areas of Kilimanjaro at the end of the dry seasons, around February to March and September to October. Fire can transform land cover, but it also maintains it. Studies have shown that fires always played a role in shaping the vegetation belts on the mountain. For instance, certain species, such as the giant groundsels (Dendrosenecio) became fire-adapted. Also, without fires opening up the forests many light demanding species, such as the famous giant lobelias, would not be able to grow. Fires in 1996 and 1997 – years with unusually dry seasons – destroyed vast areas of old cloud forest. These are characteristically moist forests in high altitude areas which create unique environments. The forest was replaced by bush. Vegetation has started to recover and shrubs have sprouted, but it’s far from being a forest, which would take at least 100 years to grow without fire. Since these old forests have an important function of fog water collection, the loss of these forests means a serious impact on the water balance of the mountain, much larger than the impact of the melting glaciers, which is ecologically negligible. The impact of these former fires was much bigger than that of the recent one, which “only” affected bush land and not forest.
SOURCE: THE CONVERSATION