Too little water for fires

2016-03-22 10:13
Working on Fire recruit Thandile Pakade from Kokstad tests a hose on one of the fire trucks at a yellow card training camp at Albert Falls. The water truck which draws water from dams to put out fires may have to travel further to find a water source it can refill from during the drought this winter.

Working on Fire recruit Thandile Pakade from Kokstad tests a hose on one of the fire trucks at a yellow card training camp at Albert Falls. The water truck which draws water from dams to put out fires may have to travel further to find a water source it can refill from during the drought this winter. (Ian Carbutt, The Witness)

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Pietermaritzburg - With the province suffering the effects of a severe drought, several organisations are worried about a possible shortage of water to fight fires this winter.

Winter is KwaZulu-Natal’s dry season, when veld and forest fires are plentiful, but quelling these fires in the months ahead might be especially tough.

Lions River Fire Protection Association chairman John Campbell said that with seriously low levels of water in all the major dams there was a “huge concern” over whether there would be enough water to fight back fires in the province.

He said he recorded rainfall from September to August and, in the first 40 years he had been in Lions River, the annual average was 1 000 mm.

“However, since 2013-2014 we have started to run dry,” said Campbell.

“Between 2013 to the end of February this year we are 873 mm short, which is a huge percentage of the annual average.

“We are short almost a year’s rainfall. It’s not surprising water supply is under pressure,” he said.

Richmond Fire Protection Association fire officer Terry Tedder said he was also worried about the amount of water available to fight fires this winter.

“We have had rain, but generally a lot of farm dams have not filled yet,” said Tedder.

“If this does not happen, we will have a serious problem. We draw our water for fire fighting from the farm dams and rivers in the area.

“Our dam that we use to supply our airstrip is also very low at the moment,” said Tedder.

KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union (Kwanalu) director Sandy La Marque said a “very real concern exists regarding the water shortages being experienced”.

“In some areas the very low dam levels of water will impact on our ability to draw water for fire fighting,” said La Marque.

“Many farmers are having to purchase ­water for animal and human consumption so in the possible event of a fire the existing resources may not be sufficient.”

She said Kwanalu was working within fire protection associations and disaster management forums and had raised issues relating to fire prevention and control.

“All bodies should be proactively attending to this as a potential risk which could have far-reaching implications,” she said.

“Kwanalu will continue to raise this and other risks which may exist moving into the winter period.”

Working on Fire spokesperson Linton van Rensberg said the organisation was also concerned about available water resources for fire fighting.

“If the water resources that landowners have are depleted then there is no alternate source of water,” he said.

“The only other way to suppress fires then is by hand with beaters.

“This can be done, but this takes longer to suppress a fire.

“My feeling is that Zululand will be the hardest hit as this area has had several years of below-average rainfall, and the drought has aggravated the problem.”

He said landowners are sinking new boreholes and rehabilitating old ones where possible, but this would not solve the problem.

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

“The best method is prevention, in terms of awareness and working hand in hand with the local fire protection associations,” he said.

Msunduzi municipal spokesperson Nqobile Madonda said although the municipality was most definitely concerned, there are measures in place to prepare for winter.

“Any further water that is required above our bulk water carrier, which carries 10 000 litres, and the fire trucks will be sourced from a hydrant, or rivers and pools.

“Any water-cutting measures implemented at Msunduzi will be done by the water section in conjunction with the fire department to ensure there is enough water for fire prevention,” she said.

• chelsea.pieterse@witness.co.za

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  water  |  fire

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