Government launches fire warning system

Government launches fire warning system

8 September 2005

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South Africa has launched a national fire danger rating system in an attempt to help prevent runaway fires that cost the country millions of rands.

Through the R1,2-million system, based on the one used in the US, early warnings are to be issued to the public with the daily weather forecasts.

On days when the danger of fires is rated high, certain activities, like lighting fires in the open, will be banned.

Information on climate, temperature, humidity and wind is to be sent from the service’s 42 weather stations to the head office in Pretoria. This is to be converted by a computer model into an index and finally into a danger rating.

Only if we take this warning seriously will the system become a success’
Each of the 42 regions is then to be given a forecast of the fire danger rating, according to a colour code, which the regions are to send out to the public. Red will mean the danger of fires is extremely high, orange high, yellow medium, green low and blue insignificant.

Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry Buyelwa Sonjica, who launched the system at Kirstenbosch on Wednesday, said when forecasts indicated that the danger of fires was high, a warning would be issued through newspapers, radio and television.

“Only if we take this warning seriously and observe the issued warning will the system become a success,” she said.

Sonjica said her department would identify activities that would be banned on days when the risk of fire was high.

Water Affairs Director-General Jabu Sindane said making a fire in the open on days when the risk of veld fires was great was a “category one offence” and carried a two-year jail sentence.

‘We’re relying on behaviour changes’
This did not mean, however, that people would not be allowed to make braai fires in designated areas, he said.

Any landowner would be prosecuted if a fire on his property spread to other areas.

“On red days certain things will be prohibited. We’re relying on behaviour changes happening, that people will change their behaviour when the fire risk is high,” Sindane said.

Sonjica said the system would help firefighting managers to take precautionary measures to prevent veld fires and would raise public awareness about the danger.

“Some will remember the Western Cape fires of January 2000 in which property worth millions was lost,” she said.

“The Mpumalanga fires of 2003 cost the forestry industry R3-million to R4-million. We could have channelled that funding to other things, but it was lost to the fire.”

Most of these fires had caught people unawares as there was no adequate early warning system to alert the responsible agencies.

The system would be implemented by the South African Weather Service and was a requirement of the National Veld and Forest Fire Act of 1998.


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