S.African bush fire death toll rises to 23

S.African bush fire death toll rises to 23

3 September 2008

published by africa.reuters.com

South Africa — Bush fires in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province in the east of the country have killed 23 people, an official said on Wednesday.

The fires hit 1,100 households, destroyed livestock and left swathes of crop and grazing land smouldering.

Tree plantations owned by Sappi Ltd, the world’s leading maker of fine paper used in glossy magazines, were destroyed.

“We have confirmed that 23 people died of fire in KZN by late afternoon,” Phindile Radebe, provincial police spokeswoman, told Reuters, adding the figure could rise.

Andre Oberholzer, Sappi’s spokesman, said the company was assessing the cost of the fires in Kwa-Zulu Natal and the north-eastern Mpumalanga province, “although at this stage it appears that Mpumalanga has been more severely impacted.”

Lennox Mabaso, a spokesman for the local government ministry, said damages were expected to run into millions of rand (dollars).

Fanned by hot, dry, windy conditions, the fires were believed to have been started either by “human negligence or human error”, said Mabaso.

The fires occurred mostly to the north of the east coast city of Durban, near the port town of Richards Bay and with Inkandla town among the worst hit.

“This is one of the worst fire seasons we have ever had in this province, especially looking at the number of deaths,” Mabaso said, adding the provincial government was providing food and shelter for hundreds of fire victims.

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