Home News Veld fires ravage NC farmland

Veld fires ravage NC farmland

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The SA Weather Office issued warnings of extremely high fire conditions for a large portion of central SA including the Northern Cape

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WHILE the SA Weather Office has issued new warnings of extremely high fire conditions in the Northern Cape, large tracts of agricultural land in the Province have already been ravaged by veld fires and a Colesberg farmer is in the intensive care unit with severe burns.

The SA Weather Office yesterday issued warnings of extremely high fire conditions for a large portion of central South Africa, including the Northern Cape.

Last week around 6 000 hectares of farmland was destroyed in the Douglas area, when a fire broke out and spread to four farms.

This past weekend also saw severe fires in the Colesberg area and by yesterday preliminary figures indicated that approximately 8 500 hectares of arable land has been burned to the ground.

“It is through grace alone that no casualties have been reported and our thoughts are with the farmer who is currently in the ICU with severe burn wounds,”Johan Matthee, DA Caucus Chairperson in the Umsobomvu Local Municipality, said yesterday.

The farmer, JP Vorster, is believed to have fallen off a bakkie into the fire and has sustained second degree burns on more than 30 percent of his body. He is in ICU in a hospital in Kimberley.

Two women also suffered burn wounds to their legs and are being treated at the local hospital in Colesberg.

Matthee said yesterday that the main losses were grazing for cattle and fences which need to be replaced.

“When a similar fire ravaged the area about five years ago, it cost approximately R30 000 per kilometre for the fences to be replaced,” Matthee said.

The fire started at around 10am on Friday morning at the N1 about 21km out of Colesberg. “It is believed that it could have been started by someone throwing a cigarette out of a car window.”

Due to strong winds, it burnt all the way up towards Noupoort, where it was eventually brought under control late on Sunday night, just kilometres away from the town.

“Farmers are still trying to determine the stock losses but it is hoped that because the fences were cut and the animals were allowed to run from farm to farm, this figure will not be that large.

“Fortunately, none of the workers’ houses were burnt, while damage to the infrastructure, in terms of the PVC water pipes, was also minimal. The biggest losses were the fences, which were totally destroyed,” Matthee added.

He said that the greatest need amongst farmers currently was for feed. “The veld has been totally scorched.”

Matthee said that the fires in the Colesberg region highlighted the urgent need for proper firefighting services to be provided by the local municipality.

“While the current drought and the strong wind provided ideal conditions for fires, the lack of an adequate response from the Umsobomvu Local Municipality worsened the devastating impact of the fires,” Matthee stated, adding that the party would be writing to the provincial Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development to ask for emergency relief to be rolled out to the affected farmers.

Spokesperson for the Umsobomvu Municipality, Birtus Kapp, yesterday disputed the allegations, stating that the local authority had responded to the fire with two fire tenders as well as 14 personnel members.

“We also provided water from our hydrants to fill up the tankers,” he said, explaining that the tankers are provided by the district municipality to local farmers as they are in the front line and the first respondents to veld fires.

“These tankers, which many people think belong to the farmers because they are on the back of their bakkies, are actually provided free of charge by the district municipality to assist in the fighting of veld fires.”

By yesterday afternoon, meanwhile, reports of further fires in the area, had been received but no information was available. “We have had reports of fires breaking out around lunchtime yesterday but we have not yet been able to confirm whether this is the same fire or a new one,” Kapp said.

In Kimberley the temperatures are already hitting the mid-30s and local residents are feeling the effects of warnings of above normal temperatures during spring.

The good news, however, is that while the forecasting system is not certain on a specific direction of rainfall during mid spring, there are strong indications that wetter conditions can be expected from late spring and early summer for the summer-rainfall areas.

This is according to a statement issued by the Department of Agricultural, Forestry and Fisheries on Climate Change and Disaster Management.

Regarding current conditions in the provinces, the department has pointed out that the veld is, in general, in reasonable condition except in the drought-stricken areas.

The average level of major dams is high in most provinces but has decreased in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape.

“Drought conditions continue in the Western Cape, parts of the Northern Cape and Eastern Cape, and the seasonal forecast indicates high uncertainty on the specific direction of rainfall for mid-spring. Temperatures are anticipated to be above normal across the country during spring,” the department states.

Veld fires have also been reported in several provinces and the risk of fires remains high due to the dry veld.

“The maintenance of fire belts should be prioritised as well as adherence to veld fire warnings.”

The department also advises that as temperatures are anticipated to be above normal during spring, and a few daily extreme weather warnings for heatwaves have been issued for some areas, the likelihood of heatwaves during spring increases. “Measures to combat heatwaves should be in place.”