Authorities repeat warning about runaway fires, calling for vigilance

Authorities repeat warning about runaway fires, calling for vigilance

07 July 2011

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South Africa — The local community has been reminded to report any runaway fires, now that the fire season has started.

Spokesperson for the provincial department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, Simphiwe Kunene, said residents of the province are also urged to be extremely cautious and to avoid situations that could lead to runaway fires.

“Residents are urged to make sure that they do not start fires in the open veld,” he said, adding that all fires must be controlled and be completely put out before anyone leaves the area.

“People must not throw away burning cigarette stubs in the open veld.”

He also urged people to be extremely careful when lighting fires or using heaters or other devices for warmth.

“They must not leave them unattended and must put them out or turn them off when not in use.”

Parents are also advised not to leave children alone with fires and heating appliances.

Meanwhile, all municipalities are on full alert and standby for any possible wildfires.

“Residents must report any fires as quickly as possible to their closest fire brigade,” Kunene said.

Land owners have been advised to join their local fire protection associations to ensure compliance and also receive fire advisories.

The province has suffered catastrophic wildfires in the past.

In 2007, wildfires started at end of July, and by the first week of September, 13 people, including six firefighters, had been killed, while another 27 were injured, including in fire-related road accidents.

In this period, 40200ha of plantations and 16000ha of grazing fields were destroyed.

In 2008, the fires began in April, lasting until October, during which time four people, including a firefighter, were killed and 325 injured in some of the 67 fires that raged across the province.

The fires also devastated 33000ha of vegetation, including 15000ha of trees in commercial forestry plantations.

Forestry South Africa, the country’s premier and largest forestry organisation representing growers of timber, reported that the province’s forestry sector was hardest hit by the 2008 fires, suffering losses estimated at R3.5bn.

Between June and August last year, only 115 fires were reported in the province, compared to 153 in the same period in 2009.

Kunene said the province’s response to disasters such as wildfires had improved in the past years, since 2007.

“After the 2007 fires, we put together the provincial disaster management advisory forum, including stakeholders such as Working on Fire, which came up with a disaster management framework,” said Kunene.

He said recommendations of a team of investigators who probed the cause of the devastating 2007 fires were also strictly implemented.

“Some of the recommendations were that all local municipalities ensure that they have detailed disaster management plans and frameworks, disaster management centres and satellite stations,” Kunene said.

He added that community awareness campaigns also targeted schools and general communities to teach the public about the dangers of fires after it was found that negligence was one of the main causes of the 2007 fires.

“Human negligence, like discarding burning cigarette butts and abandoning domestic fires, and natural occurrences like lightning, exacerbated by strong winds, were the usual causes of fires in Mpumalanga,” he said.

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