NELSPRUIT – A high-tech computerised fire-warning system that sends out alerts when the risk of a veld or forest fire is high, was launched by SA`s minister of water affairs and forestry, Mr Buyelwa Sonjica, in Cape Town this week.
The new National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS) was developed by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (Dwaf), in partnership with the South African Weather Bureau, in response to several devastating fires.
Speaking at the launch in Kirstenbosch, Sonjica said South Africa had been devastated by veld fires over the past five years including those in the Cape Peninsula in 2001, in Mpumalanga two years later and ongoing blazes in informal settle-ments that claimed lives and left hundreds homeless.
“Most of these fires caught the affected communities unawares, due to the lack of an early warning system, which could have alerted the responsible agencies to prepare adequately.” Veld fires hindered economic growth and exacerbated poverty by destroying poor commu-nities and farm and forestry workers` livelihoods.
The minister blamed the causes of the fires on urbanisation, rural development and the country`s dry weather conditions.
The new NFDRS computer programme will monitor weather and fire-fuel conditions across the country. Based on this information, it will calculate the fire-danger index and this information will be commu-nicated to fire-protection associations and disaster-management centres.
The goal is to help veld fire mana-gers decide what precautionary measures to take when managing the risk of fire as well as raising public awareness of fire.
One recipient will be Working on Fire (WoF), a national poverty-relief programme established three years ago to promote an integrated approach to fire management.
WoF advocacy officer Ms Val Charlton said the programme`s fire crews would be better deployed using information supplied by the new system.
“We have 40 WoF crews stationed around the country, all of whom can be brought in to fight a fire at any time. By using information provided by the NFDRS we will know exactly which teams to keep on standby.”
South Africa`s new system is based on the United States fire danger rating model but has been modified to local conditions. It is the first computerised fire warning system in Africa and, says Sonjica, will eventually be shared with others in the Southern African Development Community.
When the system indicated a high fire-danger rating, warnings would be issued on television, over the radio and in newspapers. “I expect the citizens of this country to take note of such announcements for their own benefit and that of the country as a whole.” Enquiries: Ms Val Charlton on 082-378-9056.