Fire alert across KZN

2016-06-08 13:07
A KwaZulu-Natal Fire Protection Association aeroplane drops a load of water during a presentation.

A KwaZulu-Natal Fire Protection Association aeroplane drops a load of water during a presentation. (Ian Carbutt, The Witness )

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Pietermaritzburg - With warnings of a potentially devastating fire season ahead, residents living near plantations could be in the most danger of getting caught by a raging runaway fire.

With KwaZulu-Natal experiencing its driest year in three decades last year, dam levels at an all-time low, and below-average rainfall forecast for the province this winter, things are “not looking good”.

KwaZulu-Natal Fire Protection Association provincial operations manager Simon Thomas said this winter had “the potential for a nasty fire season”, especially in the plantations.

“In the grasslands, there is little fuel for a fire to burn because of the drought and overgrazing, however the potential is still there and could still be dangerous,” he said.

“In the plantations around KZN, there has been excessive leaf drop and because it has been so dry, with below-average rainfall, the levels of fuel here are extremely high.

“Looking at the weather now and the forecast for the next few months, things are not looking good,” said Thomas.

He said 99% of fires started because of a human element such as a burning operation on farms.

“Very few fires are caused by natural elements, however, towards the end of winter when there are those dry thunderstorms, we see the lightning does cause fires.”

A source from the Msunduzi Fire Department, who could not be named, said Prestbury’s proximity to the NTC Forest could also be cause for concern.

As Prestbury is a high-lying area, if the reservoir runs low, water does not reach the area, meaning the fire hydrants used to fight fires would potentially be dry.

“It is a very dry and bushy area and if there is a fire … [and the fire hydrants have run dry] we would have to call for water tankers and the whole team of fire fighters depending on the severity of the fire,” said the source.

NTC Tree Farming general manager Jacob Kotze said they had prepared for this year’s fire season by creating fire belts, where they cut back vegetation away from residential areas by nine metres.

“We are concerned as this year is a lot drier than normal but we have crews on standby and we are a member of the KZN FPA who will assist if there are any fires,” he said.

Working on Fire national spokesperson Linton Rensburg said specialists expected there would be an increased risk of veld and forest fires, as a result of the drought.

“Landowners are sinking new boreholes but this does not solve the problem as the water table is very low in places,” he said.

“Other methods are to make use of bulk tankers and to transport the water onto site, however this is expensive.

“The best method is prevention, in terms of awareness and working hand in hand with the local Fire Protection Associations.”

He said if the water resources that landowners have are depleted, then there would be no alternate source of water.

“The only other way to suppress fires is by hand with beaters. This takes longer to suppress a fire. It means that as a fire fighting fraternity we will have to be super alert and efficient this season in order to suppress fires in the initial stages.”

Lions River Fire Protection Association chairperson John Campbell said there was a “potential for disaster” this winter season for fires on plantations.

He said plantation farmers needed to be alert at all times for any acts of arson as it could quickly turn into a disaster.

Kranskop Farmers Association chairperson Rolf Konigkramer said the biggest concerns among their community was the low water levels.

“The dam and a few reservoirs are too low to use to fight fires therefore we will have to source water from somewhere else, which could delay the extinguishing of the fire.”


THE KwaZulu-Natal Fire Protection Association celebrates its 10-year anniversary this June with fire protection officer Simon Thomas as its operations manager.

Based in the heart of Karkloof, the KwaZulu-Natal Fire Protection Association (KZN FPA) was first established as an organisation to fight forest fires in 1954.

The organisation was recognised as the Umbrella Fire Protection Association in terms of the National Veld and Forest Fire Act 2006.

Thomas said the association had come a long way from its early days.

“We have established a good working relationship with provincial and national disaster management, and Working on Fire.”

He said FPA had established a well-oiled operating system and had put up almost 50 cameras around KwaZulu-Natal to monitor potential fires in different areas.

He said the KZNFPA covers 65% of the province in fighting fires with bases in Zululand, Vryheid, and Richmond, each equipped with planes to fight fires.

“KZNFPA aims, through excellence in education, to promote integrated veld and forest fire management principles to ensure the protection of life, and the environment,” he said.

KZNFPA’s job is an important one and Thomas said the association would continue to serve in preventing fires through awareness campaigns and education as well as fighting fires with the KZNFPA team. — Witness Reporter.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  fire

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