South Africa — Dry and windy conditions have raised the risk of wildfire to critical levels in the east of South Africa with all veld and forest firefighters and air personnel on high alert to fight out-of-control wildland fires.
Michelle Kleinhans, national dispatcher for the Working on Fire Programme, said 20 WoF teams responded to 19 wildfires in five provinces at the weekend and weather conditions looked set to stay dry and windy for the week.
Humidity is very low raising the Fire Danger Index to orange for the Free State and high yellow in Mpumalanga, KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng. The risk of fire in the Eastern Cape is also high, she said.
WoF air resources remained on standby. At the weekend seven spotter planes assisted at 15 fires, 14 bomber planes doused 13 fires and four choppers tended to 15 fires. Altogether WoF resources were used at 33 wildfires; the highest volume of out-of-control blazes reported this season. Today (Monday 1pm) all fires had been contained.
What is heartening is that plantation fires are fewer than normal. This is due to the ongoing fire prevention efforts of the forestry industry, she said.
Working on Fire has also implemented a national integrated fire management strategy to reduce the risk of unwanted fire. The approach includes educating rural communities about fire and working with farmers making them critically aware of fire danger ratings.
WoF Zululand dispatcher, Mduduzi Mjadu, said four blazes in gum plantations had taken massive effort to control at the weekend.
Working on Fire, with partner organisations, is working hard to raise community awareness and educate people about the risk of wildfire in Zululand, he said. We are delighted to say that traditional leaders are very receptive to our efforts.
Mjadu said conditions in Zululand were drier than normal and the fire season was expected to stretch until the end of September before the onset of summer rains.
* WoF is a government-funded, multi-partner organisation focused on Integrated Fire Management and veld and wild fire fighting. It employs 2 500 veld and forest firefighters from disadvantaged rural communities who are trained as front line veld and forest firefighters to stop the scourge of wild fire which costs the South African economy billions of rands in lost product and productivity every year.