Zimbabwe — As the fire season is fast approaching it is of critical importance that we cast an eye upon the lessons of past fire seasons, so as to face up to the challenges of the fire season that is, July to the onset of the first rains. Fireguards are essential in protecting property and lives of various living organisms, including human beings. It is therefore mandatory for all land owners or occupiers as well as responsible authorities to put in place fire pre-suppression measures in the form of standard fireguards, which are at least 9m wide. The owner, user or occupier of a property should make sure that standard fireguards are put in place around their property in order to control the spread of uncontrolled veld fires. A standard fireguard is at least 9 metres on either side of the boundary line/ fence. In the case of schools, colleges, army barracks, police stations or any institution that is under threat from veld fires, the responsible authority should ensure that standard fireguards are put in place on or before the month of July each year to control the spread of veld fires.
The main aim is to reduce biomass so that the fire is starved off the fuel load. The Forest Act (CAP 19:05) and Environmental Impact Assessment and Ecosystems Protection Regulations Statutory Instrument Number 7 of 2007, makes it mandatory to put in place standard fire guards as pre-suppression measures which prevent fires form spreading. The same statutory instrument requires that all people and responsible authorities should put out the fire regardless of who would have caused it. Farmers are also advised to form fire fighting committees and firefighting teams in all areas so that when the fire breaks out, there will be co-ordination in putting out the fire. Neighbours and passers-by are also obligated by law to assist in putting out the uncontrolled fires, whenever they occur. What is Standard Fireguard? Construction of fireguards should be on the calendar of all land users and/or property owners each and every year to comply with legal provisions. A standard fireguard should be at least 9 metres on either side of a boundary line/fence. This therefore follows that between two properties the fireguard becomes at least 18 metres wide. Internal fireguards of at least 4,5 metres should also be constructed in addition to the existing pathways and roads to ensure extra-protection of properties and other valuables. All fireguards should be free of any flammable materials to ensure fireguards render their intended use and value. Ways of constructing fireguards There are various ways which can be used to construct fireguards. The choice of any one technique over the other is dependent upon such variables like labour costs, availability of farm machinery, skills and knowledge.
The tractor method This method is ideal before the land dries to strip plough fire breaks. The area should be free from all flammable material. It can also be used to make fire traces for controlled burning. The ox-drawn plough method This method can be used on a small scale using an ox-driven mouldboard plough. It is cheap and can work very effectively when combined with other methods like controlled burning.
Controlled burning This method is ideal when resources are limited. The method is considered costless but time effective. It is, however, the least encouraged as it can cause an environmental and economic catastrophe if appropriate action is not taken. Prior notifications should be done at least 24 hours before the exercise commences and it is a legal requirement that a written notice should be forwarded to the ZRP and other regulatory authorities six weeks prior to the burning exercise. The law also requires that there should be a fire fighting team on standby with appropriate fire fighting equipment like fire beaters and knap- sacks to assist in putting out the fire in case, the fire goes out of control. Surrounding villagers and traditional leaders should also be alerted for them to be prepared and ready to render assistance when fire gets out of hand. Timing is an important factor to consider when using this method as it should not be done on a windy day. When constructing the fireguards using controlled burning, one should construct fire traces first. A fire trace is a narrow strip cleared on either side of a fireguard to facilitate burning. Fire traces help to stop fire encroachment into the unwanted zones. Controlled burning should meet its objectives by considering moisture conditions, wind direction and speed, fuel load and also temperature. When constructing fireguards using controlled burning it is important to consider: The period before the fire season (before July each year); the prevailing weather conditions. It is generally advised and most preferred for one to do the exercise on a calm day. Windy days should be avoided at all costs. Burning should be done during the morning when dew is still present and grass will be less flammable. Burning during the midday can be done but only on moist soil. Necessary firefighting equipment should be mobilised prior to burning, in case the fire gets out of hand and need to be suppressed. Before any burning commences, people in the neighbourhood should be informed such that they become alert and prepared to help put off the fire, in case the fire gets out of control. Standard fireguards are a solution to veld fire prevention and if only people could take heed, our natural heritage, environment, property and lives can be protected.