Fires destroyed 6 000ha

Fires destroyed 6 000ha

3 July 2007

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South Africa – KwaZulu-Natal continues tocount the cost of last week’s devastating fires and the weekend’s strong winds,which caused millions of rands in damage and forced the closure of Richards BayHarbour.

One of those affected by the damaging fires in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands waspaper producer Sappi, which had about 6 000ha of timber plantations destroyed.

Sappi Forests Managing Director Hendrik de Jongh said on Monday that the fireshad been the worst since the 1980s.

“It is estimated that about 5 900ha were lost… which translates toseveral millions of rands worth of damage,” he said.

De Jongh said that the last time Sappi had experienced anything close to thepresent loss was during a runaway fire storm in August 2003 in Mpumalanga, whenSappi had lost about 2 700ha of timber.

Sappi said that although the cause of the fire was still to be determined, itcould confirm that it had started on a property neighbouring the Sappi Shaftonplantation near Howick about 11am last Monday.

“The fire was immediately picked up by Firehawk, the electronicsurveillance company employed to detect and prevent fires on the company’splantations, and the local Fire Protection Association’s forces were immediatelydeployed to fight the blaze.

“However, owing to the extreme weather conditions, their prompt actioncould not prevent the fire raging out of control and spreading rapidly.”

Other fires also flared up and spread quickly in the prevailing dry conditions,driven by strong winds and reaching the speeds of up to 120km/h.

“Sappi Forests has been hard hit by this disaster, but we have also beenmoved by the plight of some of the people in our neighbouring communities – somewho have lost everything and are now struggling to survive in these harshconditions,” said De Jongh, promising that Sappi would continue to assistto ease the plight of its neighbours.

Temperatures stayed low throughout the province on Monday, but the weatheroffice predicted that warmer conditions were on the way.

Pietermaritzburg’s minimum last night was expected to be around 4°C, Durban13°C and Underberg -3°C.

In Pietermaritzburg the maximum expected on Tuesday is 20°C, Durban 23°C andUnderberg 14°C. Ray Watt, of Underberg, said it was sunny but cold on Mondaywith snow about one-metre deep on the top of Sani Pass.

Even the subtropical Zululand coast failed to escape the winter chill as theeffects of a second cold front moved all the way up the KwaZulu-Natal NorthCoast on Monday, bringing more rain from the south.

The torrential rain at the beginning of June and again last Wednesday night sawrecord falls of more than 300mm in the Empangeni sugar-growing area for June -normally the driest month of the year – and after a near-dry May.

Gale-force winds that battered the region throughout Sunday, easing late intothe evening, had resulted in the closure of Richards Bay Harbour. On Mondaymorning, the port was closed to all but vessels that could manage the heavyswells. Tremendous gusts on Sunday blew down trees and ripped tiles off roofs.

KwaZulu-Natal Agriculture and Environmental Affairs MEC Mtholephi Mthimkhulu isexpected to refer to the fire damage in the Midlands and northern KwaZulu-Natalwhen he addresses farmers at the annual KwaMbonambi Farmers’ Day near RichardsBay on Tuesday.

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