Fire season returns

2008-05-17 00:00

ONE of the greatest threats to farmers, especially as we move into the dry season, is runaway fires.

I still have cold shivers when I remember the farm fires I experienced as a child. Especially those runaway fires at night when the wind howled, the flames leapt into the sky, the dogs barked, the beaters ran around trying to find water to dampen the sacks on the end of long poles and the bedlam that had to be turned into a fighting machine by the farmer, often a woman on her own.

After hours of fighting a fire everyone returns to the sheds more than exhausted, faces blackened, lungs coughing up hot smoke, blister burns on the hands and feet and, if you are lucky, the stooked maize, the veld, livestock, timber and the buildings have been saved.

Head counts are necessary to ensure that all the team members are alive. You never forget the incongruity of the icy winter nights with the extreme heat of the raging fires.

Last winter saw out-of-control fires hammering the midlands and northern KwaZulu-Natal. Thousands of hectares were demolished and the cost of this will remain with us for a long time.

Fire control is not for the faint-hearted and needs organisation. Speaking to Terry Tedder from the Richmond Fire Protection Association (FPA), I learnt a bit about the effort that is required to get a fire protection programme together.

Operating an FPA efficiently requires landowner participation in order to deliver tangible benefits. The FPA does not necessarily do the physical fire fighting for members, but provides support services, such as a 24-hour call centre for emergencies or back-up assistance, co-ordination of back-up assistance, weather information, the issuing of alerts for bad days and no-burning days and burning permits, as well as assistance with firebreak agreements between neighbours, mediation on disputes between neighbours about firebreaks and burning of breaks, advice on firebreaks and burning and also policing of unlawful firebreaks and burning violations.

A business plan and rules and regulations have been submitted and will be implemented during this fire season. It is imperative that landowners acquaint themselves with the rules and abide by them, and also the rules issued by the Government Gazette with regards to burning and prohibitions.

The FPA, through the fire protection officer, will enforce the rules and regulations and help the members to learn and understand the rules and regulations, and their liabilities.

The FPA will conduct audits on equipment, landowner readiness to fight fires and on firebreaks. The association will issue warning letters to non-complying members or offending landowners.

Even if you are not a member you have to comply with the rules and regulations of the FPA in your area. It will have information sessions on new technology and equipment available for preventing and fighting fires.

In Richmond the FPA management structure is made up of an executive committee with a chairman and a committee drawn from the various landowner groups in the area.

The fire protection officer (FPO) has been appointed and is building a database of all landowners in the area. This database includes all contact details and resources available in the area to assist in the event of fires or any emergencies.

The response from the landowners in the area has generally been positive as they know that a strong FPA will be of benefit.

The Richmond area has been divided into four wards and each ward has a ward leader to assist the FPO in his or her duties, and to help with co-ordinating assistance in the area. The dispatch/call centre will be in radio link with the ward leaders and FPO in order to assist where necessary.

The Richmond FPA has also embarked on an awareness campaign in conjunction with Working On Fire (WOF), a fire-wise community project, to conduct awareness days in the rural communities and schools in the area, on the dangers of bad burning practices and bee removal.

Bees are often chased away from their hives by setting fires in the hives.

Hopefully, this will cut down on the number of fires that move from the rural areas on to farms. The aim is to make the communities aware of the dangers and to be proactive in stopping people doing indiscriminant burning, especially on orange and red days.

The awareness days are run through the FPA, with the assistance of the WOF media liaison and reaction teams who conduct the awareness training.

A very successful awareness day was held recently when 250 people attended and participated in the training programme as well as soccer and netball competitions.

For inquiries, contact Terry Tedder at 082 551 2878 or e-mail

• Alastair Paterson is an agricultural consultant. He can be contacted at 033 330 4817, 082 880 9002 or e-mail

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