High winds flamed blazes

2014-06-17 00:00

“IT feels like it’s the end of the world.”

Despite her valiant attempts to remain positive, that was the reaction of Cedarville farmer Rown Miles, who was yesterday having to put many of her badly burnt animals out of their misery after a massive fired raged through her farm.

Four people died in East Griqualand on Sunday evening as veld fires swept through 15 farms over 15 000 hectares, leaving more than 1 000 sheep and 200 cattle dead, according to preliminary reports.

Miles said the fire started eight kilometres away on the Matatiele side of Cedarville. “I have lost 500 sheep, at around­ R1 400 per sheep, all my grazing and many cattle.” She estimated total damages to her farm at around R4 million.

“The wind just took it because of the dryness of the grass. We tried to stop it, but it jumped over roads, a river and firebreaks.”

Miles was yesterday taking stock of the devastation. “It’s pitch black. We’ve had lots of desperate moments. I got up feeling very positive but now I have three chaps out shooting heifers and sheep.” If animals were unable to move their throats were slit, but if they were running wounded, they were shot. “It’s a nightmare.”

She said the biggest question she had yesterday was how the fire started. “Was it arson or Eskom?”

Andile Pani of Kokstad’s Usher Memorial Hospital said three people were admitted on Sunday with bad burns but died the same evening. A person’s skeleton was allegedly found in the mountains.

The R56 from Kokstad to Matatiele, which is usually lined by green grass and grazing cows, now resembles a desert, littered with charred bodies of cows and sheep.

The bellows of badly burnt livestock filled the air before they were shot. Feed and hay bales intended to see stock through the winter were also burnt.

Reporting from the scene, Khaya Magenu of Kokstad Fever said fences were destroyed by the fire and animals were wandering between farms searching in vain for food. Graders were digging mass graves for the dead livestock.

Alfred Nzo District Municipality spokesperson Ndabulo Masumpa said: “While more than 50 homes have been burnt throughout the district, four people have burnt to death in a village in Matatiele in their house.”

Greater Kokstad Municipality Speaker Zolani Mhlongo described the situation as “terrible. Farm workers’ houses were completely burnt.”

KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union CEO Sandy la Marque said reports continued to pour in yesterday, painting a picture of devastation across KZN.

KwaZulu-Natal Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube sent disaster relief teams to several affected areas yesterday.

Plantations destroyed: page 3

RUNAWAY fires also raged through plantations in the Melmoth, Kokstad and Harding areas across KwaZulu-Natal yesterday.

KZN Fire Protection Association operations manager Simon Thomas said the fires at Weza plantation (near Kokstad) and at Melmoth in Zululand were contained within fire lines yesterday but were still burning strongly.

He said the fires started at the weekend and were fanned by gale-force winds accompanying an approaching cold front, which resulted in firefighting aircraft being grounded until yesterday.

“The wind calmed [yesterday] and there is a light southerly breeze but we are expecting a bit of blow again on Wednesday in the northern area around Vryheid,” he said.

Thomas said conditions are tinder-dry and not much rain is being forecast, creating ideal conditions for runaway fires.

He said the cause of the fires cannot be determined until a full investigation has been done. “Any spark can start a blaze in these conditions,” he said.

Meanwhile, Working on Fire KZN sent up a helicopter and two aircraft to help ground teams fight massive fires raging through several plantations at Harding yesterday.

Provincial co-ordinator Tracy Carter said the “pumping wind” had hampered efforts to bring the fires under control over the weekend and they continued to burn yesterday.

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