Zimbabwe — The recent death of a five-year-old girl in a veld fire, which swept through parts of Headlands in Manicaland destroying large swathes of vegetation, is most regrettable.
What makes the incident sad is the fact that the fire was started by a plot owner who, without taking any precautions, set ablaze a stubble left over from a previous harvest to clear his land.
Although a suspect has been arrested in connection with starting the fire, the loss of a young soul is lamentable, considering the fact that this could have been prevented.
We are told the plot owner never bothered to construct fireguards around his holding.
This is complete disregard of an important precautionary measure when starting controlled fires.
During this time of the year, farmers clear their land by setting fire on stalks left after harvesting, but the cardinal rule is to ring the land with fireguards to ensure that the fire does not spread beyond the targeted area.
The risk of veld fires is higher this year because of the profuse vegetation, which is a result of incessant rains the country has received in many parts.
Already those who travel around the country can see great swathes of blackened earth and it is only mid-August, with almost three months to go before heavy rains start falling and the fire danger passes.
Extreme fire danger conditions have been forecast, especially as the high winds constitute a major fire hazard.
We have on several occasions written in these columns of how catastrophic veld fires can be and called for stiffer penalties or long custodial sentences for anyone found guilty of causing such fires.
Veld fires pose danger to human life as has been witnessed in Headlands, while in addition to lost pastures, there is also the risk of losing crops, fence polls and buildings.
The fires the country has witnessed in recent years have been due to either careless people or small-time illegal hunters and poachers.
And the risk of fire in our national parks is a particularly frightening prospect.
We can all help prevent veld fires if we become responsible citizens, who properly extinguish camp and braai fires, and not carelessly toss cigarette butts out of car windows.
Many other people do not know that they should prevent veld fires because they do not care.
Often these are farmers who have done so little with their land that a fire will cause them mental anguish, because there is little to destroy.
Unfortunately, it can cause serious destruction on their neighbours.
The Minister of Environment and Tourism, Cde Francis Nhema, has taken steps to minimise the danger, banning anyone setting a fire outside homes and businesses, but it seems not many have taken him seriously.
The Environmental Management Agency has also over the years spent billions of dollars educating people on the dangers of veld fires, but it does appear the message is not getting home.
This remains the biggest challenge now.
We call for a rethink of the justice system by classifying causing veld fires as a serious crime, which should attract some of the stiffest of sentences of 10 years upwards.
It is also worth considering amending the Forestry Act and make it mandatory that every farmer, whether commercial or communal, has a fireguard around their property.