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Property and 70 000 ha lost to veld fires in Waterberg

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While Working on Fire (Wof) teams assisted by farmers, farmworkers and volunteers continued their battle against wildfires raging in the Waterberg district condolences were expressed over the death of WoF member Samuel Ramokgaba (35) who died on Sunday while trying to suppress a veld fire near Alma.
Yesterday (Wednesday) WoF Provincial General Manager, Sam Maepa informed that it was the biggest fire outbreak witnessed in the area since 2013. “1n 2013 we lost about 30 000 hectares in Nylslvey as a result of veld fires and we don’t want such experiences in future,” Maepa said. At the time of our going to press it was reported that an estimated 70 to 80 000 hectares had been devastated by the latest wildfires.
A total of 260 firefighters attached to WoF were dispatched in the Waterberg district over the weekend to suppress multiple wild fires which had erupted in the Mokopane, Modimolle, Mookgophong, Vaalwater, Alma, Northam and Thabazimbi areas.
Maepa informed that the fires had damaged among others also a farmhouse near Mokopane, three houses between Modimolle, Mookgopong and Mokopane, three vehicles in Entabeni Nature Reserve outside Mokopane, two lodges around Entabeni whilst also killing a lot of animals, both wild and domestic in surrounding areas.
Maepa said the fires could have been the result of the heatwave which hit the country last week. “The past weekend has been the busiest for our team after a heatwave was declared by South African Weather Services. We made use of a helicopter, nine fire trucks and six bakkies to suppress the fires,” Maepa said.
He stated that an Incident Command Structure has been established and based at Alma, between Modimolle and Vaalwater to monitor and manage all the fires including the sources. “Some of the fires were caused by lighting while the cause of the other fires are still unknown.The terrain where our members are working is not very easy as it is mountainous and this also causes the fire to burn faster.
“A ground team from Gauteng was brought in to suppress ongoing outbreaks of fire. We are working closely with various stakeholders who are affected and we are hoping for a positive outcome sooner than later. We have fires erupting every day. Some are at the peak of the mountain which is not accessible to our grounds very fast,” Maepa stated.
WoF has requested for more resources from other provinces due to the intensity and number of fires occurring in the province, especially in the Waterberg. “The resources that have arrived so far include four ground teams with a fire truck from Mpumalanga and one team and it is extremely challenging because our fire fighters can’t access the area, but we are dealing with the situation,” Maepa concluded.
On Monday WoF Provincial Communications Officer, Matema Gwangwa told Polokwane Observer they were unable to establish the extent of the damage because the fire was still persisting in some parts of the district.
Asked whether Waterberg should be declared a disaster area following the extensive damage caused by the fires Callies Matlala, acting Media Liaison Officer for the Department of Cooperative Governance, Human Settlements and Traditional Affairs (Coghsta) which is also responsible for disaster management in the province, said they will only comment after the receiving the report from Coghsta’s disaster management team which is currently assessing the situation. “We won’t be able comment now, the department will issue out a media statement based on the report from our disaster management team that is assessing the situation in the area,” Matlala said.
In response to enquiries about the circumstances leading to Ramokgaba’s death Maepa said he got burned in the fire line in the Vaalwater area on Sunday afternoon just after 17:00 and was airlifted to Bela-Bela hospital where he later died. “We send our condolences to his family and friends. He was a hero; he dedicated his life to protecting the environment and save the lives of the animals and people,” Maepa said.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) also extended its deepest sympathy to Ramokgaba’s family. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family, friends and colleagues of the deceased firefighter during this difficult time,” DA Provincial Leader, Jacques Smalle said.

Story: Herbert Rachuene
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Featured photo: Structures at Entabeni Nature Reserve going up in flames while Working on Fire team members try to curb the flames from spreading further.

A firefighter breaks for a moment to survey the situation at Entabeni Nature Reserve over the weekend.

A firefighter breaks for a moment to survey the situation at Entabeni Nature Reserve over the weekend.

Burnt out game viewers at Entabeni Nature Reserve near Mokopane.

Burnt out game viewers at Entabeni Nature Reserve near Mokopane.