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Page last updated at 15:09 GMT, Tuesday, 21 July 2009 16:09 UK

Rwanda beekeeper 'sparked fire'

Silverback gorilla in Rwanda, file image
Reports said gorillas were seen fleeing the flames towards DR Congo

Emergency crews in Rwanda have contained wildfires that they say were set off by a beekeeper collecting honey by smoking out bees from a hive.

The fires burnt for days, consuming 1.5 sq km of land in the Volcanoes National Park, home to rare gorillas.

Rwanda's tourism chief Rosette Rugamba said 4,000 people had taken part in the emergency response - including local officials and government ministers.

She said the fires were under control but not completely extinguished.

"We are being cautious and saying it is contained," she told a news conference. But she said wind tended to spark further fires.

"From what we have been seeing, in the morning and in the evening, you see the smoke."

The BBC's Geoffrey Mutagoma, in the capital Kigali, says the national park accounts for 90% of all tourism revenues to Rwanda.

He says the Rwandan government is spending $30,000 (£18,200) a day to maintain the disaster team on location - but there have been similar outbreaks of fire in other parts of the country over the weekend.

Mrs Rugamba said the fire was sparked accidentally by a local beekeeper extracting honey from a hive.

"He tried to put it out by himself but he failed. He is the one who broke the news about the fire," she said.

Tourism officials have now issued a stern warning to people to avoid lighting fires near national parks.

Earlier reports said groups of gorillas had been seen fleeing the flames, heading to neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.



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