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Season of veld fires

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Fire-fighters and small-holding owners on the outskirts of the city had their hands full fighting veld fires last week and over the weekend.
Various reasons have been cited as to what led to the many fires, among which was that fires that were intentionally set as a precautionary measure, got out of control; another reason cited was that of residents setting refuse alight and contractors working with heavy tools that set of sparks.
Roughly 2 000 hectares of grass and forest vegetation were lost in the fires on various farms in the province between April and July, according to Working on Fire (WoF) Provincial Spokesperson, Mmatema Gwangwa.
She said during this period, 600 firefighters were stationed at 25 bases throughout the province and they were able to suppress the fires.
“These efforts limited the damage to just over 1 982 hectares of burnt vegetation and forests. Our aerial resources made up of Huey helicopters and spotter planes have in total flown just under 14 hours in these fire suppression efforts.”
Gwangwa said the cause of many of these fires has not yet been determined, but she warned perpetrators and also urged communities to be more vigilant during this fires season.
“Those who simply start veld fires will be fined. The National Veld and Forest Fire Act 101 of 1998 prohibits people from starting fires in open areas, you will be fined,” Gwangwa said.
She further called on the community to remove rubble from their properties which can pose a fire risk
“On houses next to grasslands, residents need to ensure that there are sufficient fire breaks between their properties and these grasslands. We also ask residents to cut down overhanging tree branches close to their properties and to clean their gutters.”
She also advised that residents have the contact details of their local fire authorities at hand should there be a fire emergency.
She warned of an increase in wildfires in various parts of the province due to the peak of the winter fire season.
“We foresee this escalation especially in the Waterberg district; but we firmly believe that through our partnerships with Provincial Disaster Management Centres, Fire Protection Associations, SANParks, various private and public landowners and local municipalities, we will be able to respond quickly.”
The Doornbult/Kareebosch Community Policing Forum (CPF) Chairperson, Bennie Henning confirmed that the recent fires were caused by residents who set refuse alight.
“We also had contractors using tools of which the sparks led to one of the bigger fires and in another instance, a resident tried to rid some of the long grass to prevent criminals from hiding,” he said.
He said in certain instances arson is also suspected.
“The veld is very dry and the smallest spark can cause millions of Rand of damages and even cost someone life,” Henning said.
Leeuwkuil CPF Chairperson, Paul Venter, indicated that two veld fires occurred in the area with more than 500 hectares of vegetation destroyed.
“One controlled fire was handled well. We have been lucky thus far as we haven’t had any serious veld fires. People are aware of the dry conditions of the veld and everyone is willing to help when a veld fire occurs,” he said.

Story: RC Myburgh & Herbert Rachuene