South Africa: Govt Heightens Alerts on Wildfires

South Africa: Govt Heightens Alerts on Wildfires

2 August 2007

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Mpumalanga, South Africa —  Residents have been urged to be on the alert for wildfires over the next three days, as weather conducive to veld fires has been predicted.

The worst is expected to be over by Sunday, which is expected to be rated “green” in terms of fire risk, instead of the red or orange rating of the past week

This follows the devastating veld fires which have swept across areas north east of the country.

Described as the worst the country has experienced since the 1980s, the fires have already resulted in the death of 17 people in Mpumalanga and another 13 in KwaZulu-Natal.

The Department of Local Government and Housing in Mpumalanga has instructed all municipalities to be on full alert and standby for more possible fires.

Residents are also urged to report any fires as soon as possible to the Provincial Disaster Management Centre at 0800 202 507.

The department has appealed to motorists to be cautious when driving, as some areas are still covered by smoke which could affect visibility on the roads.

In a statement released Wednesday, the department said the vegetation was dry and this made it flammable. High winds were also fanning fires.

“People are urged to be extremely cautious,” the department said.

There are currently five fires burning in the province which fire-fighters are working on.

“The teams are continuing to monitor the situation in the areas where the fires have been contained.”

A total of 200 shacks have been destroyed and several citizens have been injured and hospitalised. In addition, farmland has been damaged and livestock have been destroyed.

According to Government’s Working on Fire Programme (WoF) spokesperson Val Charlton, the firefighting exercises are expected to cost R10 million.

The WoF has deployed 250 firefighting personnel to fight the fires, and support teams had been flown in from the Western Cape.

The department has reported that 37 400 hectares of plantation and 15 000 hectares of grazing had been destroyed.

Two timber sawmills near Graskop and Sabie were also destroyed.

Tents, blankets and food have been distributed to eight families who lost their homes near Graskop and Mashishing (formerly Lydenburg).

Meanwhile, the Mbombela municipality in Nelspruit has asked residents to stop dumping waste and rubble at the smouldering landfill site outside the old Nelspruit Airport.

The landfill site has been burning since last Friday, yet members of the public are continuing to off-load flammable waste such as rubber, plastic and deadwood.

“Despite the combined efforts of the municipal fire brigade and the Working on Fire emergency and rescue teams to control the fire, the danger is not over yet,” said municipal spokesperson Vusi Sibiya.

He urged members of the public to use the waste dump in White River or to drop their rubbish off at the waste transfer station opposite the Nelspruit licensing centre until further notice.

The council has appointed a private company to try put out the fire at the landfill site.

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