WATCH | Runaway fires destroy 100 000ha of Free State farmland

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  • A fire has destroyed thousands of hectares of Free State farmland, as well as killing game and livestock.
  • The fire was reportedly started during a service delivery protest in the Tokologo Municipality.
  • One farmer sustained third-degree burns and is currently in hospital.

A fire has destroyed around 100 000 hectares of farmland around Hoopstad, Christina and Hertzogville in the Free State.

Hundreds of head of game and livestock have been lost in the fire, according to an estimate from the Free State Agricultural Organisation.

The fire was one of the worst seen in recent years, said the organisation's operations manager, Jack Armor.

"In some situations, cattle ran as far as seven farms to escape the fire," added Armor. "Although there was no loss of life, we are aware of farmers who have suffered serious burns and we wish them a speedy recovery."

The fire was reportedly started during a service delivery protest on Monday.

According to a statement from the FF Plus, protesting Tokologo residents torched a water tank, which resulted in the runaway fires.

"Commercial as well as emerging farmers in the area already suffered severe losses prior to the fires due to the long drought and the current poor economic climate. These farmers will not be able to recover from the millions of rand of damage caused by the fires on their own without government aid," said provincial FF Plus leader Jan van Niekerk.

Police spokesperson Brigadier Motantsi Makhele said JoJo tanks were damaged and 17 people appeared in the Hertzogville Magistrate's Court on Tuesday for public violence and malicious damage to property.

Eleven were arrested on Sunday and the others were taken into custody on Monday.

"They were all granted R1 000 bail each… Seven of them could not afford it and had to remain in custody pending their next court appearance on Thursday 5 November," added Makhele.

One farmer was admitted to hospital with third-degree burn wounds after trying to get the flames under control, according to Netwerk24. He is understood to be in a critical condition in hospital.

According to Armor, dry and windy conditions over the weekend added to the spread of the fires.

He said they were currently under control, but added the western parts of the province remained at risk due to the current heat wave.

A case of arson was under investigation by the local police, added Armor. This has not been confirmed by Free State police at the time of publication.

"We cannot allow the lives of farmers and farm workers to be further endangered in the current circumstances as a result of criminal activities, such as arson," he said.

The organisation was surveying the damage, but at this stage it seemed feed donations, in particular, were a serious need, added Armor.  

It is calling for donations of feed and funding to assist farmers affected by the blaze.

Donors can contact elize@vslandbou.co.za or 051 444 4609.

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