Photos ‘show negligence in KZN fires’

Photos ‘show negligence in KZN fires’

4 September 2008

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South Africa — Firefighting authorities apparently have “credible” evidence corroborating claims that the runaway fires that devastated much of KwaZulu-Natal were caused by negligence.

Working on Fire operations manager Simon Thomas said his organisation had taken photographs showing a farm where one fire started, crossed a common boundary and went through to a neighbouring farm.

“We didn’t use fancy technology, it’s just pictures from a spotter airplane showing clearly where the fire started and crossed the common boundary.

We are not saying it was arson. The fire had burnt during the previous day and wasn’t put out and crept to the neighbour’s property. The fire wasn’t looked after.”

Thomas said his organisation was investigating further. The pictures would be handed to the police.

Asked how believable the evidence was, Thomas said: “The evidence is reliable, a picture doesn’t lie.”

He said the fires had been contained but were still burning in some areas.

Melmoth, where several fires were still smouldering, was identified as the most dangerous area.

“The fires aren’t getting bigger but we have warm weather forecast for Thursday until Sunday. The situation will remain risky until we get decent rain to break this cycle,” said Thomas.

Agriculture and environmental affairs MEC Mtholephi Mthimkhulu called for the pictures to be taken to the relevant authorities.

“People have died, livestock and property were destroyed. We call on whoever has evidence or knowledge of any wrongdoing to assist the authorities,” he said.

Water affairs and forestry department spokesperson Themba Khumalo said if the evidence was true, “heads will roll”.

“The fires were started in the midst of winds, which makes it culpable homicide. If this is true, the law will take its course,” he said.

An estimated 41 fires destroyed about 22 000ha of grazing land in the province.

Mthimkhulu lashed out at commercial farmers who alleged that some of the fires were linked to the land claims process, warning them not to jump to conclusions without concrete evidence.

Responding to KwaZulu-Natal agricultural union Kwanalu in particular, Mthimkhulu said that he was puzzled by those allegations.

He said he did not believe anyone in their right mind would engage in such behaviour because of unhappiness with the pace of land claims.

“The poor and the landless cannot be treated as natural suspects in this disaster,” he said.

Kwanalu president Robin Barnsley said the union stood by its allegation. He would respond to the MEC personally.

The health department said that the fires had claimed 34 lives, with 56 people being treated in hospital.

  • Meanwhile, an elderly man is fighting for his life in the Edendale Hospital, in Pietermaritzburg, after he was caught in a veld fire at Mid Illovo on Wednesday.

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