Zimbabwe–– AT least 90 people have been arrested for causing veld fires, which have resulted in the death of two people, while valuables worth several thousands of dollars were destroyed in vicious flames that have ravaged nearly 1 800 hectares of forests in Manicaland.
The Manica Post has established that apart from unmitigated impact on biodiversity, valuables including two lodges (Nyanga), domestic animals, commercial plantations, huts, foodstuffs, clothes, a wireless booster, a water reservoir, tobacco nurseries, water pipes, a tuckshop, a Zesa transformer, Zesa cables and transmission poles all worth several thousands of dollars were also destroyed in systematic infernos sweeping across the province.
The unprecedented magnitude of the veld fires, 50 percent of which is blamed on farmers who lit fires to clear land in preparation for the 2012/13 cropping season, compelled the Environmental Management Agency to roll out a blitz that netted 90 people since the start of the fire season in August.
Other causes of fires include reckless disposal of lit cigarette stubs, smoking out of bees for honey harvesting, lighting fires at road servitudes while waiting for early morning buses, hunting, deliberate lighting of fires/arson, children playing with matches and improper household ash disposal.
The suspects were issued with fine tickets worth $10 000.
The highest ticket issued was in the Level 8 of $500.
Manicaland Environmental manager, Mr Kingstone Chitotombe, said both fatal incidents occurred in Makoni, which has gained notoriety for being the most burnt district in the province.
He said the first victim was Blessing Mashura (7) of Cropton Farm then Mrs Sheila Kapenzi (57) of Mutanha Village in Headman Gandanzara’s area.
He said the minor was part of the team mobilised to put out a morning fire that was advancing towards homesteads. In the process of dousing the fire, the minor disappeared and his remains were later discovered in a charred state. The fire also destroyed four huts belonging to village head, Dorothy Kutsi of the same Cropton area.
On the second incident that occurred last week, Mrs Kapenzi allegedly died after being overpowered by the fire she had lit while clearing her garden.
“The fire had gone out of control and was destroying a neighbour’s garden when she tried to put it out. She was burnt to death. The fire went on to destroy a nearby gum tree plantation,” said Mr Chitotombe.
“The other victim was a minor, who had first spotted the fire and alerted his parents. The minor went on to be part of a group of people who went out to put out the fire as it was advancing towards their homesteads. The boy unfortunately went missing and his burnt out body was discovered hours later.
“We want to advise members of the public that minors must not participate in dousing fires because the exercise might turn out to be tragic. If children have seen a fire, they must just alert elders,” said Mr Chitotombe.
Mr Chitotombe warned the public that the agency will crack the whip against those who start fires outside their residential or commercial properties.
He also added that farmers must use other manual methods to clear their farm lands.
Mr Chitotombe reiterated that the agency will continue conducting spot checks throughout Manicaland with the intention to punish those without veld fire pre-suppression measures.
Veld fire pre-suppression measures include fire guards, fire beaters, fire tenders, knapsacks and fire fighting teams.
Mr Chitotombe said six cases have been referred for prosecution in Makoni, Chipinge, Nyanga and Mutare.
“So far we have secured a conviction with the courts in Nyanga, where the suspect, Taurai Nyaoundo was convicted and fined $100 or three months in jail. As an agency, we would appreciate if we could get more jail sentences which could be deterrent enough,” said Mr Chitotombe.
He added that some cases were being tried at traditional courts in an indication that the traditional institutions were taking issues of environmental conservation seriously.
EMA has initiated National Fire Strategy which seeks to protect the environment through limiting the damage emanating from veld fires as well as raising awareness on veld fires and their environmental implications.
The National Fire Strategy seeks to ameliorate the risks arising from fires as well as promoting a proactive attitude for dealing with threats. A statutory instrument on Environmental Impact Assessment and Ecosystem protection regulations has also been put forward to provide guidelines with regard to fire management. The regulations stipulate the fire season (July-onset of the rainy season), pre-suppression, suppression and post-suppression measures.