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Police to probe cause of devastating fires


The police are investigating the cause of the devastating fires that destroyed over 100 000 hectares of land in the Northern Cape last week.

THE POLICE are investigating the origins of the devastating fires that destroyed farms and resulted in livestock, wildlife and game losses and widespread damage to grazing land in the Northern Cape last week.

Provincial Department of Agriculture, Environmental Affairs, Rural Development and Land Reform spokesperson Zandisile Luphahla said yesterday that the fires appeared to have been deliberately orchestrated.

“We have requested the police to investigate the cause of the fires as the Province has never experienced fires of such a magnitude before. The fires spread as far as Ritchie, Hopetown, Danielskuil, Olifantshoek and Upington, where large areas of the veld were burnt. We encourage members of the public to report any information regarding who might have started the fires to the police,” said Luphahla.

He added that the department was compiling a report into the extent of the damages.

“The report will advise as to whether a state of disaster should be declared.”

He stated that the department had provided 150 bales of fodder and 160 tons of lucern to affected farmers, from the Ritchie fodder bank.

“We are working with various organisations including the Gift of the Givers that provided transport to distribute relief supplies to farmers. Veterinary surgeons are providing care to injured animals.”

Luphahla advised land owners to establish fire breaks between their farms and main roads to prevent runaway fires from destroying their properties.

“A fire break should be put in place at least five metres from the access point of the farm, while all grass and flammable objects must be removed. Insurance claims are often not paid out if the necessary fire precautions are not put in place.”

He urged pedestrians and motorists not to discard cigarette butts in the veld.

Janine Byleveld from Agri-Northern Cape said yesterday that 120 000 hectares of land was destroyed while about 72 000 animals were affected by the recent fires.

“It will take at least three months for grazing land to recover and will also depend on whether there is good rainfall,” said Byleveld.

She said that various cases related to the fires had been opened for investigation by the police.

“The two main fires started in Kimberley and Ritchie and rapidly spread to other areas.”

Byleveld added that Agri-Northern Cape and GWK had managed to raise emergency funds to the value of R2.6 million to assist 56 affected farms.

“Much needed help is coming from some of the unlikeliest of places. The funds will go towards repairing infrastructure, fences, water pipes and the distribution of fodder.

“Veterinarians in Kimberley have volunteered their services, where the fund will cover the medical expenses.

“We provide ongoing support for disasters including fires and drought.”

Agri-Northern Cape president Nicol Jansen stated that the fund would be administered by the Agri-Northern Cape Foundation, a non-profit company owned by Agri-Northern Cape.

“The foundation is well-positioned to handle disaster relief and fund-raising.”

In a joint statement from Kimberley diamond mining company Ekapa, Agri-Northern Cape and GWK it was stated that areas including Schmidtsdrift, Campbell, Douglas, Kimberley, Magersfontein and Jacobsdal were affected by the fires.

“The fires ravaged large parts of the Northern Cape and Free State – it is estimated that more than 400 000 hectares were destroyed by veld fires in the last few months.

“Farmers and their families, farmworkers, other members of farming communities and Ekapa personnel with their firefighting equipment assisted in firefighting and rescuing animals in danger. Motorists were trapped behind the fires, where reports were received of people who had to watch burnt animals run anxiously across the N12 between Kimberley and Ritchie to seek shelter.”

The executive head of marketing and communication for GWK, Neil de Klerk, stated that they had joined hands with Ekapa CEO Jahn Hohne in providing relief through GWK’s Just One Drop initiative that was established to provide drought relief.

“The same project is being used to assist with the devastating fires, protect the environment and wildlife and provide food for bewildered animals.”

GWK group managing director Llewellyn Brooks added that they were inspired by how farmers and communities stood together during the crisis.

“We appeal to our partners, suppliers, financial institutions and the business sector to get involved.”

An estimated 120 000 hectares of land was destroyed while about 72 000 animals were affected by the recent fires. Pictures: Soraya Crowie, Danie van der Lith and Supplied
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