Sudan: Date palms, orchards destroyed in Northern State wildfire

Fire has ravaged more than 1,000 date palms as well as four fruit orchards of various types in the area between Abri and Tebej, known as “Abri King” in Sudan’s Northern State (Photo: RD)

Fire has ravaged more than 1,000 date palms as well as four fruit orchards of various types in the area between Abri and Tebej, known as “Abri King” in Sudan’s Northern State damaging some nearby houses and causing a prolonged power outage.

Civil activist and farmer Shahir Mahjoub told Radio Dabanga that the fires started at 09:00, but residents only became aware three hours later. The blaze continued for more than five hours, destroying more than 1,000 fruit-bearing palm trees and plantations. He noted that the date harvest season was just three months away, but luckily, there were no casualties.

The majority of residents in the Northern State rely primarily on income from date sales. However, the villages suffer from palm tree fires every summer. This is the seventh fire of its kind in the Mahas and Sikot areas, and there have been more than 10 such fires in the state. Residents continue to demand that the government provide fire engines.

Shahir explained that the fire also destroyed four fruit orchards containing various fruits like mangoes, guavas, Persian plums, and citrus. He added that the flames began to spread to some nearby houses, forcing residents to move all their furniture outdoors. The farmer noted that the residents quickly mobilised to extinguish the fire using basic methods like water and soil. The flames spread rapidly, covering distances of about 500 metres in a short period, making it difficult for residents to control the fire despite their concerted efforts.

He attributed the fire to negligence and the failure to clean palm farms by removing dry fronds and the spread of grass in small spaces. High temperatures cause these fronds to rub against each other, igniting the flames. Additionally, shifting winds from north to south help the fire spread rapidly from one place to another.

Another cause of the fire is the presence of a plant which climbs the trunks and stems of palm trees. When the fire reaches this climbing plant, it propels its seeds 300 metres or more, causing an explosion of flames that ignites the surrounding area within seconds. Shahir mentioned that the flames can even cross the Nile, causing fires on the opposite bank.

Mahjoub explains that the local emergency services sent two “loader” vehicles to create a firebreak with soil between the safe area and the burning region. Wadi Halfa locality sent a fire truck that travelled 180 kilometres from Abri. Although its arrival was delayed, it contributed significantly to extinguishing the fire. He pointed out that palm tree fires are known to last for at least three consecutive days in their trunks.

Describing the situation as catastrophic and dangerous, Mahjoub said that all the villages in the Northern state are caught in a continuous cycle of palm tree fires. As soon as one village’s fire is extinguished, another village ignites, while the state remains unable to provide basic services, including fire trucks, instead of waiting for a vehicle to travel 180km from Wadi Halfa locality. By then, the fire would have consumed everything in its path.

He highlighted that farmers bear all these losses alone without any compensation from the state or any other entity, despite the levies collected.

The last fire occurred in Quba Salim village on June 3, and previous fires have affected the villages of Dalgo, Kajbar, Ashmito, Saadankurta, Mashkila, Nuri Koka, and most recently, Abri King. Palm tree fires have also occurred in other villages in Nuri and Tangasi, the centre of Karima, and the islands of Artigasha and Marwati in Dongola locality.