News24

Free State fire death toll rises

2011-08-25 20:23

Bloemfontein - Two more people have died in veldfires in the Free State this week, bringing the number of death so far to three, Working on Fire (WoF) said on Thursday.

The two people were motorists and they died of smoke inhalation in the same fire which claimed the life of a farmworker who died while helping farmers extinguish a fire near Vredefort on Tuesday, it said.

Hundreds of farm animals have also died in fires which have ravaged the Free State, North West, Limpopo and parts of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, said WoF spokesperson Evelyn John Holtzhausen.

Free State Agriculture expressed condolences to the families of the victims.

The union also wished those workers and farmers hospitalised as a result of the fire a quick recovery, said Free State Agriculture spokesperson Jack Armour.

Aid

“Free State Agriculture was also addressing the immediate humanitarian and stock feed needs of farmers affected by fires in the last few days.”

He said regional representatives were busy with various actions such as emergency humanitarian relief in relation to data collection, needs assessments and the co-ordination of these actions.

Lists of affected farmers, farm workers, helpers and their families were also compiled.

Armour said Free State Agriculture had already obtained a donation from Voermol of a molasses product that makes old bales more palatable, as well as other offers of transport, fodder and grazing.

He said current estimates of the area that was burnt in the Free State was 117 943ha.

The areas that were worst affected were Vredefort 22 000ha, Kroonstad 12 000ha, Zastron 10 000ha and Memel with 8 000ha.

Places such as Koppies, Edenville and Dewetsdorp also suffered damages.

It was established that the main causes of recent fires in the Free State were the uncontrolled disposal of spent ashes by farmworkers and commonage dwellers, fires spreading from municipal dump sites and Eskom fires.

Veldfire season

There had been particularly bad fires this year because good rainfall last summer resulted in a lot of growth, which had become highly flammable in the dry, cold winter, he said.

High winds had created conditions conducive to the rapid spread of fires this week, he said.

However, the establishment of fire protection associations had improved the co-ordination of firefighting efforts and prevented further damage.

In Limpopo, fires had destroyed about 50 000ha of farmland, said WoF.

It advised landowners to ensure they had adequate firebreaks in place.

The veldfire season is from May 1 to October 31 in summer rainfall areas.

Deputy Agriculture Minister Dr Pieter Mulder was shocked at the fire damage, particularly in the Free State and North West.

He expressed his sympathy for the personal losses of farmers and farm workers.

Mulder said that if the fires were started by arsonists, as was suggested in media reports earlier this week, the guilty parties had to be caught and punished.

He said the damage the fires had caused to rural communities' economies could not easily be calculated and would affect all of them as they were interdependent.

He said preventative measures at local level should be reviewed to limit the future impact of fire damage.