South Africa — VELD fires across the Free State have caused damages exceeding R3 million since the start of the year, according to a provincial forestry official.
Malcolm Procter, an official with the water affairs and forestry department, said this after raging fires destroyed 1 200 hectares of grazing land at three farms between Bloemfontein and Bultfontein on Saturday.
The fire was allegedly started by two young children at Nick Steyn’s Petrue Farm before spreading to the neighbouring Dooringfontein and Onverwacht farms.
“The kids started the fire which got out of hand and rapidly spread to neighbouring farms,” At Venter, another neighbouring farmer who was not affected by the fire, told the Free State Times this week.
Farmers in the area quickly responded with water tanks and fire extinguishers to douse the flames.
The affected farmers are now likely to lease grazing land for their livestock from neighbouring farmers, at R300 per hectare.
Procter said since January 14 000 hectares of farmland had been ravaged by fire in the Free State.
Warden was the most affected with 6 000 hectares burnt, he said, while Winburg and Kroonstad had lost 2 300 hectares and 2 200 hectares respectively to veld fires.
“Overall the damages are estimated at R3 3600 000,” Procter said, adding that no fatalities had been reported so far.
“Even though the onset of the veld fire season is usually from August until October, already 65 fires have been reported this year.”
Last year the Free State saw the worst veld fires in the past 10 years.
A total of 474 180 hectares of farmland in the province were burnt, causing damages worth a staggering R514 million.
This was attributed to the veld fire season which began earlier than usual, starting from May to December.
According to data compiled by Procter, the western part of the Free State, with its high percentage of maize fields and cultivated land, had more fires than the “high burning” eastern Free State last year.
Most of the fires are caused by arson, illegal hunting, the smoking out of bees and individual negligence.
“Ninety-five percent of the fires are caused by human factors and five percent is natural causes,” Procter said.
The Free State agriculture department’s farming information and disaster manager, Mafa Mokoaqo, said there were rumours of some farmers allegedly setting their farms on fire so that they can claim insurance or ask for government assistance.
“We investigate the matter thoroughly before we offer assistance,” he said.
“We will not consider assisting farmers who have suffered loss from fire due to their own negligence.”
Mokoaqo said the agriculture department was engaging with the farming community to educate them about veld fires.