Suspected thieves set fire to farms

2014-07-19 00:00

IN their bid to evade capture, sugar cane thieves are believed to have started a massive fire that swept through farms near Pietermaritzburg.

The youngsters allegedly set fire to farms in Old Wartburg Road trying to evade capture by security officials hot on their heels on Thursday night during a blustering Berg wind.

Local farmers teamed up to fight the fire that burnt for several hours and damaged farmlands.

Bruce Taylor, whose farm Walk in The Light was worst affected, said youngsters from the nearby Haniville township were stealing sugar cane when they were chased by the local security and neighbouring farm manager and fled deep into the sugar cane.

“They often come to the sugar cane fields and steal cane and timber from my neighbour and myself … This time they were chased by security and we suspect they started the fire so that their friends could get away … They just do not understand the consequences of starting a fire.”

Taylor said the fire burnt through sugar cane and timber. Several farmers and farm staff using tractors and tankers fought the fire, which burnt an estimated 30 hectares on his farm. He said they were fortunate the fire did not reach their homes and other structures like the tunnels and sheds.

“We managed to stop it very close to the house,” said Taylor.

“It was a difficult fire because there was a hot and dry northerly Berg wind blowing and you just do not start fires in those winds. The fire changed direction a number of times,” he said.

Another resident nearby said she came home at 8.30 pm to find her family farm on fire.

Another farmer said, “It started in the centre of the sugar cane and it just spread … I spent about three hours just to keep it out of my property and my neighbour’s property.”

In Underberg, a runaway fire burnt an estimated 2 000 hectares on Thursday night.

John Pearce, from the Underberg Farmers’ Association, said they believe arsonists were responsible for the fire that burnt through thousands of hectares and took hours to finally get under control. “It was arson for sure. The fire started near the low-cost housing … It burnt through 50 hectares of gumtrees and 2 000 hectares of grazing land. We battled,” he said.

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