They call it the “honey pot flames”, but wildfires in northernKwaZulu Natal usually leave a bitter swathe of charred trees, grasslands anddead animals. Now the ‘Working on Fire Programme’ is smoking out the arsonists,who authorities say are hunters in search of honey.
The department says fires are costing the economy millions of rands. Theycalculate that up to 96% of 140 fires since January this year, were caused byhoney hunters who after smoking bees out of hives, throw the burning grass on tothe ground, leaving it to ignite a massive fire in the dense forest underbrush.
In 2003 KZN forestry industry ran up just over R3 million of debt through forestfires. In the previous year, the province spent about that amount to fightfires. Now they have introduced a cost saving smoke gun, which bee hunters canuse other than the dangerous grass torch. According to Zululand Fire Services,the changes have been profound. Their camera control centre which monitors 86000 hectares of forest has also helped in reducing up to 60% of fire damage inthe area. With this system,firefighters are able to detect fires more quickly.
Disadvantaged communities benefit Trevor Wilson, the manager of ZululandFire Protection Protection Services, says the system has two-fold benefits.”We take people from disadvantaged communities to be firefighters. We givethem the skills that they need and personal protective equipment and they arethen designated to go back to their communities and teach them about fireawareness and protection,” Wilson said. www.workingonfire.org
George Gumede, an unemployed youth, who is one of the 880 firefighting recruits,says his new responsibilities have changed his life completely. Very soon hewill be leaving for the United States to gain new firefighting skills.”Before I was at home, nobody could help me as I wanted to further mystudies, and my father died. So working on fires helped me. Now I see my futureis bright,” Gumede said.