Howling gales ground aerial veld fire fighting teams
Some of the most devastating veld fires of the year raged through the north eastern parts of the country this weekend with wind speeds of 85km/hour recorded in some areas grounding aerial fire fighting resources and endangering ground veld fire fighting teams.
Forestry plantations, agricultural land, buildings and livestock were destroyed in more than 50 veld fires in KwaZulu Natal and Mpumalanga. On Sunday a new grass fire was burning near Bethlehem in the Free State while later in the day an out-of-control fire near Piet Retief in Mpumalanga chased towards the town.
Early Sunday a ground crew from the Working on Fire Programme was withdrawn from the fire line in the Qudeni State Forest in KwaZulu Natal when the fire became too aggressive to control. Working on Fire (WoF) is a government-supported veld fire fighting and prevention programme that employs and trains veld fire fighters from marginalized communities. WoFs provincial spokesman for Mpumalanga, Aderi Reyneke, said weather conditions remained dangerous the whole weekend with the Fire Danger Index shifting between high Orange and Red.
Its been hectic, she said, as fast as we get one fire under control another starts burning. At one time six fires were burning in the Nelspruit area and five in the Warburton area in Mpumalanga.This dry, windy, hot weather is perfect veld fire weather, Reyneke said. Traffic officials were forced to close the road between Ermelo and Piet Retief on Saturday when smoke from an out-of-control grass fire near Camden made driving dangerous. In this blaze several head of livestock and informal settlement dwellings were destroyed before veld fire fighters contained the blaze. Tracey Carter, WoF provincial co-ordinator for KwaZulu Natal said all WoF crews in the province were on full alert.
A hot Berg wind fanned fires across the province throughout the weekend, she said.On Saturday unwanted veld fires were burning simultaneously near Eshowe, Vryheid, Nottingham Road, Richmond and Qudeni. On Sunday WoF teams were assisting to put out unwanted veld fires at several locations in the Drakensberg, some in forestry plantations, but again were being hampered by high winds which grounded helicopters fitted with Bambi-buckets and bomber and spotter planes.