Veldfire casualties mounting

Veldfire casualtiesmounting

27 September 2005

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South Africa — Wildfiresbegan claiming lives — both humans and animals — on Monday as they ranunabated across the hot, dry countryside, fanned by heavy winds.

A six-year-old girl, Bonakele Ngema, burnt to death in a house where she wastrapped while seeking refuge from a roaring blaze which bore down on her inMntanenkosi reserve, KwaZulu-Natal.

At least one other person died in KwaZulu-Natal and hundreds of families wereleft homeless when their houses were destroyed by fire and bad weather over theweekend.

Prisoners had to be evacuated from Mbazwana police station to Emanguzi policestation, in KwaZulu-Natal while policemen used buckets of water to fight aforest-fire threatening the building. Three vehicles were burnt out.

In Limpopo a 53-year-old unnamed farmer died when the helicopter from whichhe was assessing a fierce blaze on his farm was caught by swirling winds andcrashed.

Elephants injured

People and property were not the fires’ only victims.

Three elephants — aged two, seven and 15 — had to be destroyed, so badlyburnt were they in a fire at the Pilanesberg National Park, in North West.

Another 14 elephants, all under 10, had been captured and were being caredfor, the park’s manager, Peter Leitner, said on Monday.

The fire, which started outside the park last Tuesday, took two days to bringunder control, he said. It destroyed 5000 to 6000 hectares.

Assessing the damage from a helicopter on Friday was the saddest sight he hadseen in 20 years on the job, said Leitner.

“Young, abandoned elephant, burnt all over, standing alone in the veld,just too painful to walk.”

The younger animals were most susceptible to fire because of their size andthe sensitivity of their skins.

The adults were mainly burnt on their backs and heads as they tried toprotect the little ones.

Although many did not appear to be burned, it was clear when they walked thatthey had stood on hot coals.

No livestock appeared injured

National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals senior inspectorRick Allan said that although more than 40 farms were affected by runaway firesin the Free State, no livestock appeared to have been injured so far.

However, two Springbok had to be put down when fire moved through their 50metre by 100 metre enclosure on a farm in the province.

“They couldn’t get away. (The fire) burnt their underbellies,” saidAllan. They were found right up against the fence of the encampment, he said.

The NSPCA also had inspectors assessing the situation in Piet Retief and CapeTown and would be ready to send teams out to help on Tuesday, said spokespersonDel Jones.

With weather conditions coded “red” under the National Fire DangerRating System, a mere spark could set off a major blaze, said the public-privatefirefighting organisation, Working on Fire (WOF), spokesperson Val Charlton.

Fires raging in four provinces

Fires were raging in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Free Stateand firefighters were on standby in the Eastern Cape and Western Cape on Mondayamid fears that the blazes could spread.

“With the exception of the Free State, all the fires are in forestedareas. There has been millions of rands worth of damage,” she said.

Nine fires burning in central Zululand on Sunday night had been brought undercontrol, said Charlton, adding that the cooler weather moving in should bringrelief to exhausted fire-fighters.

Firefighters battled 20 fires in the Richard’s Bay and St Lucia areas inKwaZulu-Natal on Saturday and 15 on Sunday.

In KwaZulu-Natal, tents, blankets, plastic sheeting and other emergencyrelief supplies worth R600 000 had been distributed to affected communities,said local government, housing and traditional affairs ministry spokespersonLennox Mabaso.

Causes largely unknown

Severe lightning and forest bee-removers were being blamed for the fires inLimpopo. The causes of the other blazes were not known.

Two fires in Tzaneen, Limpopo, were under control, but three in Mpumalangacontinued to burn uncontrolled.

In the Free State, although under control, a fire in Rosendal was stillburning in inaccessible areas and along a long front. The burnt area wasestimated at 12 000 hectares. A fire at the Willem Pretorius Reserve hadbeen extinguished.

Land owners and the general public have been asked to avoid lighting firesand to ensure open cooking fires were not left unattended at any time.


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