Zimbabwe — Veld fires have destroyed vast grasslands, property – including homesteads and a timber plantation worth more than $50 billion – throughout the country.
An administrator at Good Hope Timbers, Mr Floyde Hamandishe, said timber valued at $34 billion that was ready for dispatch was lost in the blaze. The blaze also destroyed three electric motors, eight drums of creosote – a chemical used for treating gumpoles – a machine recently bought for R25 000 and logs that were awaiting milling.
“We managed to salvage the saw milling machine with help from members of the public, before the building was gutted by fire,” Mr Hamandishe said. He expressed gratitude to the Harare Fire Brigade for the quick response, which helped save one of the buildings.
In Mashonaland East Province, a sawmill was last Wednesday reduced to ashes when a veld fire broke out. Marondera Fire Brigade only arrived at the scene about half an hour later but without water, raising questions over its state of preparedness. Earlier this year, fire gutted a block of shops in Marondera’s central business district and Marondera Fire Brigade again failed to rise to the occasion and had again to seek help from Harare. In Mashonaland Central, a fire believed to have been started by mice hunters destroyed 210 tonnes of maize and 20ha of wheat at the 324ha Athlone Farm owned by provincial administrator Mr Josphat Jaji.
In Manicaland Province, more than 500ha of vegetation in Headlands and Fairfield were destroyed by fire last week. The fire also destroyed gardens and a homestead comprising three huts belonging to Mr Musafare Shonhiwa. Mr Shoriwa and his wife Elizabeth are now staying with well-wishers. Mr Shoniwa’s tobacco seedlings meant for transplanting this season were also destroyed. In Macheke District, Mashonaland East, property worth more than $4 billion at Pondorosa Farm went up in smoke two weeks ago when a fire started by a farmer in the area went out of control. The property included 15 tonnes of maize seed, a tonne of maize, 2 400 litres of diesel, $200 million cash and a homestead.
Director of the Civil Protection Unit Mr Madzudzo Pawadyira said his organisation was working with various fire brigades while the Environment Management Authority is still investigating the causes of the fires which continue to destroy property running into billions of dollars as well as vast swathes of vegetation countrywide. Mr Pawadyira, who called on relevant authorities to punish those who start fires deliberately, stressed the need for a massive campaign to educate the public on the harmful effects of veld fires.According to the Forestry Company of Zimbabwe, the worst fire damage was recorded in 2005 when more than 7 827 hectares of national forest were destroyed and 10,8 percent of standing pine timber lost. In 2006, 1 552ha of plantation forest was lost to fire, leading to a drastic fall in timber output.
Most veld fires are caused by careless smokers who discard cigarette stubs by the roadside or by mice hunters and poachers for the purpose of driving game into traps.
In the mid-1980s, a fierce fire destroyed the mythical City of Tongola, about 20km outside Harare on the Harare-Bulawayo road. The makeshift city served as the set for the movie Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold starring the late Richard Chamberlain. Mice hunters were blamed for the inferno.