Bush fire in South Africa's Kruger National Park kills 19
A devastating fire that whipped through South Africa's Kruger National Park overnight has killed 19 people and forced the evacuation of at least five tourists, an official said Wednesday.
South African National Parks spokesman Salifou Siddo told AFP the death toll in the fire that began Tuesday had risen to 19 by noon (1000 GMT) Wednesday when a man, thought to be a game ranger, died of burns in hospital.
The fire has claimed the lives of three other game rangers and 15 women from a nearby community who were harvesting grass for thatched roofs for their homes when they were trapped in the flames.
Another three people were in a critical condition in hospital in the nearby town of Nelspruit.
The fire on Tuesday night razed the Numbi camp in the southern area of the park, some 500 kilometers northeast of Johannesburg, and gutted the Napi Trail Camp.
Siddo said five tourists had a narrow escape when they had to to be evacuated from the second camp.
"They were rushed out but they are safe and sound," he told AFP, adding that their nationality was not known.
According to Kruger Park spokesman William Mabasa, the tourists had lost all their possessions, including their passports and travel documents, in the fire. They were being accommodated at the park's Pretoriuskop camp.
Mabasa said the fire had started around 3:30 pm (1330 GMT) on Tuesday.
The game rangers tried to put out the blaze when they were overcome by the flames.
Efforts were made to try to save those burned "but to no avail", Mabasa said, adding that firefighters were Wednesday still battling the flames but the fire had been brought under control -- some 15 hours after it first broke out -- and the threat to life had receded.
Fires had sprung up in the park in the previous two weeks, but all had been quickly brought under control.
"The weather was not in our favour [with this blaze]. It was very windy in the park yesterday. Fires can change direction very quickly, which makes it difficult fight them," Siddo said.
He said the bush in the park is extremely dry at the moment and conducive to fire.
"The cause of this fire is unknown, and would have to be investigated," Siddo said.
A local reporter who accompanied firefighters on a flight over the park Wednesday morning said between 5,000 and 10,000 hectares of the park had been destroyed.
"The whole area is still covered in smoke," the reporter said.
August and September, at the end of winter in South Africa, are some of the driest months, with field fires often raging for days before being brought under control.
Kruger National Park, situated in the northeast of the country and home to game species such as lion, rhinoceros, buffalo, leopard and elephant, is a popular tourist destination visited by more than a million people every year -- SKUKUZA, South Africa (AFP)
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