South Africa — Runaway fires are expected to break out in Mpumalanga for the rest of the week.
Residents have been advised to be extremely cautious and to avoid situations that can lead to runaway fires.
“The department would like to warn residents in the province of high fire danger expected from Tuesday until the weekend. Because of the Hire Fire Danger Index, the spreading of wildfires is very likely, especially in Highveld areas,” said spokesman for the provincial Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Simphiwe Kunene.
He warned against starting fires in the open veld and said all fires must be controlled and be completely put out before leaving an area.
“(People) must not throw away burning cigarette stubs in the open veld,” Kunene added.
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 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.
“All Working on Fire teams and aircraft are on immediate stand-by. Residents must report any fires as quick as possible to their closest fire brigade,” Kunene said.
Landowners have been advised to join their local fire protection associations to ensure compliance and also receive fire advisories.
Mpumalanga has suffered catastrophic wildfires in the past.
In 2007, wildfires started on July 26 and by the first week of September, 13 people, including six fire-fighters, were killed. In this period, 40 200 hectares of plantations and 16 000 hectares of grazing fields were destroyed.
In 2008, the fires began in April, lasting until October, during which time four people, including a fire fighter, were killed and 325 injured in some of the 67 fires that raged across the province.
The fires also devastated 33 000 hectares of vegetation, including 15 000 of trees in commercial forestry plantations. Forestry South Africa, the country’s premier and largest forestry organisation representing growers of timber, reported that Mpumalanga’s forestry sector was hardest hit by the 2008 fires, suffering losses estimated at R3.5 billion.
Between June and August last year, only 115 fires were reported in the province, compared with 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.”
He said the forum had been a key factor in the province’s success in reducing the damage caused by fires in recent years.
Recommendations of a team of investigators that probed the cause of the 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.
Kunene said 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 stubs and abandoning domestic fires, and natural occurrences like lightning, exacerbated by strong winds, were the usual causes of fires in Mpumalanga,” he said.