BUNGLING British troops sparked a 10,000-acre wildfire on a nature reserve in Kenya – home to elephants and lions.
More than 4,000 acres have been scorched in 36 hours, as plumes of smoke filled the sky.
The Army said all its forces were accounted for and no one had been harmed.
But residents had to flee their homes as “howling hot winds” drove the inferno over the Loldaiga Hills conservancy, 20km from Mount Kenya.
The same troops triggered a major Covid outbreak when they arrived in the country last month.
It is thought the fire was caused by a hexi burner – the solid fuel fires soldiers use to make tea and cook rations.
“It was perfect conditions for a fire,” a resident said.
“It’s bloody hot and windy at the moment. And last year we had a lot of rain, so there’s a lot of grass about to burn,” they added.
Top Brass cancelled planned war games and ordered hundreds of troops from 2 Mercians and the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment to cut fire breaks, while civilian choppers and a crop-dusting plane tried to douse the fire from above.
It is the second fire the troops have sparked in three weeks.
Aerial footage showed it burning for miles along a ridgeline as a massive plume of yellow smoke towered into the sky.
The 50,000 acre Loldaiga reserve is home to more than 400 species of birds as well as rare Grevy’s zebra, leopards and wild dogs.
An Army spokesperson said: “We are putting all our resources into containing the fire and are working closely with the Kenyan authorities to manage the situation.
“All personnel have been accounted for, and our priority now is to urgently assist the local community if they have been impacted.
“The exercise has been paused while conditions on the ground can be fully assessed.”
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said 2 Mercians will soon be disbanded as part of Army cuts.
The Army is facing its deepest cuts in more than 300 years – leaving it the barely bigger than the US Special Forces.
In February, The Sun reported on a major Covid outbreak at a garrison in Kenya.
An ill British soldier was flown by helicopter to a private hospital, more than 100 miles away in Nairobi.
It came amid fears that a plane load of troops from 2 Mercians Regiment may have brought the UK strain to East Africa and infected local staff.
Commanders at the Batuk garrison, in Laikipia, confiscated soldiers’ phones to try to cover up the scale of the outbreak.
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The camp was plunged into lockdown on Sunday and local staff, including chefs, were banned from entering to reduce the risk of transmission.
Troops were forced to eat out of date rations after Colonel Paul Gilby, the garrison commander, ordered 48 hours of “enhanced isolation”.
And around 160 troops were kicked out of the barracks and forced to camp under tarpaulins in a bid to make the buildings less crowded.