Fires still rage across four provinces

Fires still rage across four provinces

9 September 2008

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South Africa — Fires continued to rage across KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape on Tuesday, Working on Fire said.

Spokesperson Val Charlton said these included the two fires in Eshowe and the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. “Firefighters are still trying to get those two fires under control and all resources have been dispatched.”

A total of five fires were burning in Limpopo and Mpumalanga, and there were another four fires in the Eastern Cape, she said.

According to Working on Fire, Wednesday is expected to be the last day of the dry weather conducive to veld fires. “The fire danger index for all areas remains high orange and red, with red flags flying for high humidity in the three affected provinces.”

Charlton said firefighters were working 12-hour shifts in each province to contain the fires.

“No industry can continuously be hit hard by ongoing fire. It takes its toll eventually,” said Working on Fire programme manager Fred Mokgope. “South Africans must be responsible with fire when moving through forestry areas.”

In Limpopo, several fires were raging in the heatwave-stricken Magoebaskloof area.

Pilot Grant Morrison spent four hours dropping water on timber plantations near Haenertsburg before heading for another fire in the Dap Naude area.

Firefighting services in Pietermaritzburg have fought 165 fires in the first nine days of September alone.The KwaZulu-Natal city’s fire operations manager Essack Khan said August had also been a busy month with 220 veld fires that claimed five lives.

He said many of the farms in Pietermaritzburg’s outlying rural areas did not have fire breaks. Hot weather and dry winds have exacerbated the spread of fires.

As temperatures soared to 36 degrees on Tuesday, Khan reported a huge forest fire near Hilton in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.

The blaze started on Monday afternoon and three fire crews from the Pietermaritzburg and Howick fire departments worked throughout the night to put it out. The fire had been contained by midday on Tuesday.

“Our staff alternated shifts … Although the fire season is over, there may be more fires during the week. However, we are expecting some rain tomorrow [Wednesday],” said Khan.

Meanwhile, local government spokesperson Lennox Mabaso said the KwaZulu-Natal provincial cabinet will meet on Wednesday to receive a detailed assessment of the fires that ravaged the uThungulu district two weeks ago.

The KwaZulu-Natal health department reported last week that 34 people had died in fires.

Burning banned
On Monday, all controlled burning of agricultural land in three provinces hit by veld fires was banned because of worsening weather conditions.

“All controlled burning of agricultural land in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo is banned due to very dangerous, out-of-control wildfires,” said Simon Thomas, operations manager for the KwaZulu-Natal Fire Protection Association.

He said the reduction of fuel loads in burning agricultural land would reduce wildfires.

Free State agriculture minister Mamiki Qhabathe gave farmers affected by recent veld fires bales of fodder over the weekend.

Seven of South Africa’s nine provinces have been hit recently by more than 100 fires fanned by strong winds.

More than 30 lives have been lost in KwaZulu-Natal alone. While there have been a small number of human fatalities in other provinces, thousands of animals have died and tens of thousands of hectares of land have been destroyed.

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