Veld fires rav­age NC farm­land

Diamond Fields Advertiser - - NEWS - PATSY BEANGSTROM NEWS EDITOR

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.”

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