Police blamed for veld fire
A VELD fire that is believed to have been started by a flare that went off while police were destroying ammunition at a quarry just outside Kimberley, is likely to result in legal action after local farmers saw tens of thousands of hectares of farmland go up in smoke.
While the SAPS in the Northern Cape has claimed not to know the cause of the fire, which resulted in extensive damage near Kimberley last week, affected farmers are considering their options amidst claims that the rampant inferno was started by the police.
It is believed that Thursday’s fire began 10km outside Kimberley on the N12 when a projectile, believed to be a flare, went off, igniting the veld and quickly engulfing an estimated 50 000ha of farmland.
The manager of Mauritzfontein Stud Farm, Guy Murdoch, said that they were exploring their legal options following the fire that turned the overwhelming majority of their property to ash.
“I understand that there is an investigation under way,” Murdoch said yesterday. “However, as we have it, the fire started when police were busy destroying contraband and a flare or something went off, setting the veld on fire.
“With the strong winds, the fire quickly spread to our farm.
“We will definitely be taking the matter further and will be pursuing legal action.”
While Murdoch estimated that over two-thirds of the farm had been turned to ash, he added that they were fortunate not to have suffered any fatalities or significant structural damage.
“I would guess that about 5 000 of our 6 600 hectares were completely destroyed,” he said. “With the strong winds, the fire spread very quickly and devastated several of the farms in our vicinity.
“I can’t speak of the wildlife on our farm but miraculously, we suffered no loss of life. Most of the farm was completely destroyed but all our horses are accounted for and have survived. Our buildings also all made it through.
“However, the damage that was caused is still going to cost us. Our fences will need to be replaced and we will need to bring in food for the horses as our grazing land has been decimated.
“Only about a month after the first good rains is the vegetation going to start rejuvenating. Until then we are going to have to buy feed, which is not going to be cheap.”
Murdoch said that the one positive that could be taken from the devastating blaze had been the manner in which emergency services, local businesses and neighbours had rallied together to limit the damage.
“I first noticed the smoke and then got a call from a neighbouring farm to tell us what was coming. The fire spread incredibly quickly, but within a matter of hours I had about 40 people around me doing everything they could to help.
“The fire department, SANDF and Ekapa were here with bakkies and water tankers to assist - everyone worked together.
“The only people who were conspicuous by their absence were the SAPS.”
Sol Plaatje Emergency Services spokesperson, Thinus Pretorius, said that despite the rumours that are circulating, the exact cause of the fire remains unknown, while the extent of the damage was still being fully established.
“For now, we are still waiting for workers to return to the farms so we can collect all the necessary statements in order to establish the exact cause of the fire,” Pretorius said yesterday. “Until we have done this, we remain unsure of how the fire started and we do not want to contribute to the rumours that are already doing the rounds.
“What we can say is that the extent of the damage is vast. The fire spread to a number of farms and covered a huge area before we were able to bring it under control.
“Wildlife was hit particularly hard and there are still a number of farmers who are trying to track expensive game, including sable antelope that they were breeding in the area.”
Meanwhile, in a statement released late yesterday afternoon, SAPS provincial spokesperson, Captain Olebogeng Tawana, said that the cause of the fire was unknown.
ASH: Nearly 50 000ha of grazing land was destroyed in a veld fire, which apparently started on Thursday evening while police were destroying contraband in a quarry about 10km outside Kimberley. Picture: Soraya Crowie