Worst fire season sparks intervention call

Worstfire season sparks intervention call

21 April 2006

published by http://www.iol.co.za 

By Zeninjor Enwemeka

With a record number of veld and shack fires this fire season, several groups are calling for the establishment of more fire protection associations (FPAs) in the Western Cape.

Fire and Disaster Dynamics (FDD), an organisation of former fire chiefs, has organised an inaugural meeting to set up an FPA in the Drakenstein.

“The problem is very, very bad; over the last six months shack fires have cost many lives,” Danny Joubert of FDD said.

This fire season there have been over 80 wild fires, according to Fanie Bekker, a spokesman for CapeNature. Additionally, more than 100 000 hectares of land have been burned, including a lot of young fynbos.

“It’s the worst fire season in recorded history in the Western Cape,” Bekker said. Last year there were 52 fires in the protected areas under CapeNature’s control.

Bekker said there are three main hotspots: Overberg, the Boland mountain area and the Southern Cape.

According to Joubert, two fires – one in Bains Kloof and one in Franschhoek – cost over R2,5-million.

With the FPAs, landowners would be able to get together and develop a comprehensive plan for controlling wild fires, Joubert said.

Additionally, landowners could implement pre-burning programmes, acquire necessary equipment and pool resources to fight fires.

“It (the FPA) gives us the advantage of being able to attack a fire at the early stage as a group,” Joubert said.

The FPAs have been guaranteed by the Veld and Forest Fires Act. The act says that all rural areas must establish a FPA and will thus have the responsibility for protecting those areas from bush fires.

The legislation was passed in 1998 and two FPAs are currently set up in the Western Cape. There are about 150 throughout the country.

“Within the next year quite a few additional ones (FPAs) will be established in the Western Cape,” Bekker said.

“It is really a priority to all departments fighting fires, but it is quite a comprehensive process getting everyone on board.”

According to Joubert, a collaborative effort between farmers, the National Roads Agency, the Department of Water and Forestry and businesses such as Eskom, Telkom and Spoornet will help fight fires effectively through the FPA.

“We hope in the next fire season we will see a remarkable drop in the impact these fires will have on the community,” Jourbert said.

FPAs also allow members to apply for funding from the Department of Water and Forestry for equipment and other necessary items.

It also gives members legal protection from being held liable for negligence and allows members to file charges against anyone who starts a fire.

All members must also contribute a fee to pool funds for different fire prevention methods.

The inaugural meeting is on May 3 at 7pm at the Sports Club at Paarl Gymnasium High School.


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