Botswana — Head of the Fire Section at the Department of Forestry and Range Resources, Jomo Mafoko, reports that since early June, up to end of August this year, about 3.3 million hectares of land is reported to have burnt nationwide, and that there have been 52 fire outbreaks nationwide so far.
During this period, three children in the Central District died, while one was critically injured. Yesterday morning, five people were severely burnt when a fire at the Kgalagadi Trans-frontier Park overcame them.
Three were council employees, while two were volunteers. They are reported to all be admitted at Princess Marina Hospital at the moment.
Again, during this time, 45 goats have sustained burns while there has not been proper record of game that died during the fires. However, Mafoko said that only one phuti and one phuduhudu were found dead.
Head of conservation and management at the department of forestry and range resources, Jeremiah Ramontsho, say that the period between June and October is a dry season in Botswana and is mostly associated with the outbreak of fires.
Again, he says that the preceding rainy season was very good and resulted in a large build up of fuel load, which is burnable grass especially in areas where there are few grazers which could make use of the piled grass.
“Now because of these huge grasses fires move very quickly and becomes difficult to control,” he said. The most affected areas are Ngamiland, Gantsi, Southern Kweneng and Central Districts.
Ramontsho says that though there were fire breaks in some places, they are not very effective for controlling the fire.
He says that they were not necessarily created to stop the fire. “These are routes that can be used to transport resources during fire. They are not necessarily created to stop the fire because it can still cross to the other side regardless of the width of the firebreak. But they are still useful in controlling the fire,” he said.
Again, there are not many firebreaks in some game reserves since the government intends to preserve the ecology.
“We cannot create fire breaks in areas like Kgalagadi because we want to leave it undisturbed and natural as much as possible,” he said.
Even though natural fire outbreaks are expected at this time of the year, it is believed that with the current fires, 90 percent have been human induced, while only 10 percent would be natural.
“There have not been any lightning so we cannot say these fires were natural. These are caused by people,” he said. Suspects are people who are burning bushes to clear their fields, or were harvesting honey. Again, a smoker who throww away a burning cigarette could cause it. He also said that there will be no compensation for people who lose goods in the fires.
“We fear that people could cause the fires as a way of gaining money from the government,” he said. However, if the culprit is arrested, those who lost goods can take the person before the courts to demand compensation, Ramontsho said.
Again, there will still be no compensation for volunteers who help in controlling fires.
“Controlling veldt fires is not government’s responsibility. Everyone should be involved and they should know that they are doing it for themselves. Besides people cause most fires and they should partake in putting them out,” he said.
Causing a fire outbreak is a criminal offence for which one can be fined P1,000 or face a jail term of 10 years. However, Ramontsho revealed that they are currently mending veldt fire acts to come up with more biting laws.