FS firebreaks turn into wildfire
Tom de Wet, Volksblad
Ventersburg - Criminal charges are being considered against staff at Willem Pretorius game reserve after firebreaks were started there on Monday, apparently without permission, and the flames got out of control.
As a result, at least 20 000ha burned down in the game reserve and adjacent farms, but a final damage assessment is still underway.
As far as could be determined, loss of livestock was minimal but many farmers lost all their grazing.
Farmers and game reserve staff battled the flames throughout Monday night, but by Tuesday morning the fire had flared up again on the northern side of the game reserve. It was later extinguished.
Jan de Villiers, chair of the Senekal fire protection association, says he received a phone call from a game reserve staff member at about 07:30 on Monday and was informed that firebreaks will be made.
Despite his warnings, they went ahead. Only hours later, the blaze was out of control.
He says there are many conditions to comply with before permission can be given for firebreaks.
Conditions at this time of year are extremely inappropriate for firebreaks, and the wind is very unpredictable.
CC Oosthuizen is one of more than ten farmers who suffered damage due to the destructive wildfire.
Some of his farms border on the game reserve, and he lost an estimated 2 400ha of grazing. On Tuesday he was not aware of any loss of livestock.
He says they fought two fires on his farm on Monday. The first was sparked by a worker who dropped a cigarette butt at about 09:00.
While they were extinguishing the flames, they noticed smoke in the direction of the game reserve.
"We were very worried. We heard there were firebreaks that were out of control. These flames soon spread to our farms and in the end that fire was much worse than the one in the morning."
Farmers, farm workers and members of the Ventersburg and Senekal fire association helped to fight the fires.
Khotso Tau, communication manager for the department of economic development, tourism and environmental affairs, said on Tuesday afternoon that they are still waiting for a report from the game reserve about exactly what happened.
Management and staff with the necessary information were all still busy in the veld on Tuesday.