Po­lice blamed for veld fire

Diamond Fields Advertiser - - NEWS - MUR­RAY SWART STAFF RE­PORTER

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

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