Fires ring sun-scorched city

2017-09-14 13:45
The sun shines through water droplets as a member of the Pietermaritzburg Fire Department tackles one of the many fires around the city on Wednesday.

The sun shines through water droplets as a member of the Pietermaritzburg Fire Department tackles one of the many fires around the city on Wednesday. (Ian Carbutt)

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City firefighters had to battle almost 30 grass fires on Wednesday as temperatures soared to 38 degrees.

They had to work extended shifts as the heat, dryness and gusts of wind created a tinderbox effect in and around Pietermaritzburg­.

Before 2 pm 21 grass fires had already been reported to the Msunduzi Fire Department and as the afternoon progressed the number went up to 29.

There were also an unusually high number of fires across the rest of the province.

Msunduzi deputy chief fire officer Juggie Padayachee said on Wednesday evening: “All the fires reported were attended to and extinguished. Firefighters are still out working to extinguish more fires in different parts of Pietermaritzburg.”

Several parts of the city were blanketed in smoke as a result of the numerous fires.

Padayachee said the areas that were affected by grass fires included Eastwood, Northdale, Woodlands, Edendale and Imbali, but no one was reported injured.

“People are calling in and alerting us about the fires and we are equipped and ready to attend to them,” he said.

Padayachee said 22 firefighters were on duty on Wednesday and they worked 12-hour shifts. “They worked tirelessly in the hot temperatures, unfortunately it comes with the job, they have to last 12 hours.

“The Pietermaritzburg community should be very grateful to this group of men and women as they worked selflessly, being called from one job to another without complaining,” he said.

Padayachee said it was fortunate that no firefighter was injured or fell ill.

He said the direction of dry winds and the dryness of the plantations around the city helped spread grass fires.

“If you see a fire, no matter how small it is, call the fire department immediately and please give them your correct contact details and the precise location of the fire,” said Padayachee.

Padayachee said people should refrain from lighting fires as we are currently in the “no burn season”, meaning no one is allowed to light fires.

“We are not giving anyone permission to light fires at the moment because most people fail to contain and control the fires,” he said.

Spokesperson for Working on Fire (a government programme focusing on implementing integrated fire management in the country), Nompilo Zondi, said the fire danger index on Wednesday was “extremely high”.

“No one is actually allowed to start fires today because the temperatures are extremely high and there are dry winds which could spread the fire faster than you can imagine,” she said.

Zondi said on Wednesday alone the KZN Working on Fire had received 15 runaway fire callouts throughout the province.

“As we speak we have 15 firefighting teams all around KZN fighting these fires.

“People need to understand that if the temperatures are anything above 30 degrees it is not good to light fires because if the wind blows in the wrong direction they could end up burning people’s homes,” she said.

Spokesperson for Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Lennox Mabaso said they had issued a warning to the public earlier this month, warning them about the “predicted hot and dry summer which is conducive to runaway fires”.

“We appeal to the public to be extra vigilant and careful in how they dispose of their cigarette butts and to make sure children are not exposed to items that could start fires,” said Mabaso.

Mabaso also advised the public to store at least 60 litres of water that they could use to clear their way and escape in case of a fire inside their homes and then immediately call emergency services for help. Also keep your emergency numbers on speed dial,” he said.

Weather SA forecaster Wiseman Dlamini told The Witness that Pietermaritzburg on Wednesday reached a maximum temperature of 38 degrees but said temperatures were expected to be cooler today.

“Cooler temperatures are expected in most areas of KZN tomorrow [today] with the maximum temperature being at least 21 degrees,” he said.

Dlamini said there was a 30% chance for light rainfall later today with cooler temperatures expected over the weekend.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  fire

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