Fire havoc follows blistering heatwave

Fire havoc follows blistering heatwave

29 January 2007

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Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, South Africa — Dozens of fires have destroyed large tracts of veld in the Nelson Mandela Bay area as the heatwave which has beset the Eastern and Southern Cape over the past week continues unabated.

And the high temperatures are wreaking havoc on agricultural production in both regions, with farmers saying if good rains do not come soon a crippling drought is imminent.

The blistering heat has caused a string of veld fires in the past two days, with firefighters in Nelson Mandela Bay in particular working around the clock fighting runaway fires sparked by the heat and dry weather.

At least 55 veld fires have been reported in and around the city in the past two days.

Agri East Cape president Cornelius Pieterson said the province was on the brink of a drought and farmers in the Sterkstroom and Queenstown area had reported that their bore-holes were running out of water.

Farmers were experiencing a severe shortage of water, he said.

General veld conditions were becoming very dry in the western part of the province because of the scorching heat and this affected grazing severely, he said.

Farmers in the inland part of the province had also lost some livestock due to the heat.

In Sedgefield, Siyazama Emergent Farmers spokesman Lucas Lebenya said: “It has been very hot of late and obviously our crops suffer. It is very hot as we speak. We will listen to the farmers and see what we can do.”

Dries Pretorius, chief fire officer at the Knysna fire station, said: “We have had a couple of fires in the past few days. We had six fires yesterday (Wednesday) and five today (Thursday), but they were all small and we tried to get there as soon as possible. The weather these days is conducive to runaway fires. We are being very cautious.”

Nelson Mandela Bay municipal spokesman Lourens Schoeman said 34 fires had been reported in the area on Wednesday and 21 yesterday.

A fire department official said bush fires had been reported at Greenbushes, Driftsands in Forest Hill, Rocklands, Hunters Retreat, Old Cape Road, St George‘s Strand and Noordhoek.

Schoeman also issued a warning that residents should not make small fires and leave them unattended or throw burning cigarette butts out of windows as these could start veld fires.

He said five fire engines had to be dispatched to Driftsands yesterday as a fire was running out of control.

“We would like to thank fire fighters who have been working day and night to put out these fires.”

He said the heatwave had led to an extremely high consumption of water this week.

Ordinarily, the city consumes about 236 megalitres a day, but the sweltering heat saw usage rise to 286 megalitres on Tuesday.

Despite the increased water use, storage dams were still relatively full, with the Kouga Dam 91 per cent full, the Impofu 96% and Churchill Dam 82%.

A weather official said it was normal at this time of the year to experience hot conditions and very little rain.

However, he said, good rain was expected today and tomorrow.

Conditions were favourable for the development of severe thunderstorms in the north-eastern interior of the Eastern Cape and extreme southern KwaZulu Natal.

“Storms in these areas may become severe, with a risk of large hail and damaging winds.

“Heavy falls of rain are expected over the north-eastern interior of the Eastern Cape,” he said.

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