Ravaged by fiery season

2014-10-09 00:00

KWAZULU-NATAL has been ravaged by 461 veld fires since the beginning of June.

Yesterday a raging wildfire continued to burn on a farm in Bergville, fed by high winds in the area.

Working on Fire spokesperson, Linton Rensburg said that this has been the worst fire season that KZN has had in years.

In July alone, there were 46 fires reported which destroyed hundreds of hectares of farmland.

Rensburg said fires affect the farming communities as well as the rural areas.

“The impact of wildfires on natural vegetation, and particularly on the poorest of the poor, cannot be over stated,” said Rensburg.

A fire that started in Harrismith and moved down to the KZN border in mid-September saw hundreds of thousands of hectares of land destroyed, and was accompanied by loss of life.

Amongst the dead were a farmer, Johann Mocke, his 15-year-old son, Zander, a farm worker, Khela Mokoena, and Nico Joubert (19).

It was reported that 350 cattle also perished.

In total eight people have reportedly died in fires in the Free State this year.

“In KZN, it [the fire season] has been terrible,” Bergville Farming Association chairperson, Bruce Shepard said.

“The winds are incredibly high and if another fire had to start up now, we would battle to put it out before it causes too much damage. We are on high alert,” said Shepard.

The KZN Fire Protection Association operations manager, Simon Thomas said that the fire season this year had caused devastation to KZN farmland and forests.

He said in June, East Griqualand was ravaged by runaway fires.

“Huge areas of grazing were lost as well as livestock. We have also had some devastating forest fires,” said Thomas.

“We have had 98 forest fires in Shafton, just outside Howick from June 1 until yesterday. We have clocked in over 400 hours of flying [fighting fires],” said Thomas.

Thomas said the damage to biological life and the environment can be astronomical.

“The soil is already parched from the dry season, and fire destroys the chemical composition of the soil. This severely affects growth and smaller biological life like reptiles, birds and small mammals.”.

“Veld fires often result in a loss of income and therefore a loss of jobs,” said Thomas.

Rensburg has asked the farming community to be on high alert until the fire season ends in late November.

According to Rensburg, fires can be prevented by taking the following precautions:

• Reduce fuel loads around the property;

• Remove unnecessary rubble;

• Cut long grass; and

• Remove trees that overhang onto roofs of houses.

Rensburg said it is important for farmers to have the numbers of local emergency services handy, in case a fire breaks out on their land.

• chelsea.pieterse@witness.co.za

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