South Africa — VELD fires in the Free State have already caused damages worth an estimated R561 million to farm land with 300 000 hectares destroyed during the prolonged dry winter season.
Already 97 veld fires were reported in the province which have claimed the lives of five people.
The spokesman for the department of water affairs and forestry, Malcolm Procter, said on Wednesday that 95 percent of the fires were caused by human factors and five percent by natural causes.
A runaway fire in Colesberg last week destroyed 70 hectares of land on 35 farms.
One farmer lost 650 sheep. The chairman for the Colesberg farmers union, Clem Olivier, said a lot of infrastructure such as fencing, pipes and mangers were also burnt beyond repair.
Olivier said farmers affected by the fire might qualify to get disaster funding from the Northern Cape department of agriculture.
Already, farmers in the region have been approached with donations in the form of food for the cattle while the officials are busy with assessments.
Bongani Tshabalala of the organisation Working On Fire told the Free State Times that due to ever-changing weather patterns, the traditional fire season which ends at the beginning of November had prolonged, prompting a dry spell that sparks more fires.
He said there was an urgent need for at least 25mm of rainfall in the province to avoid further damage because of the dry veld conditions.
Tshabalala said the Free State was experiencing some unparalleled disaster incidents.
“The tornado in Ficksburg, Meqheleng and the floods earlier this year in various parts of the province are examples of changing weather patterns. Our department is busy with awareness programmes to prevent or minimise veld fires and other natural disasters,” said Tshabalala.
He added that farm owners and their workers should approach the veld and forest fires in a simple but workable strategy for their own safety.
“These days always check the Fire Danger Index as well as wind speed, wind direction, temperature and relative humidity. Special care should also be taken with open fires for braais.
“All fires must be extinguished before abandoning the area,” said Tshabalala.