The launch of the fire season was officially marked on a national level by a number of events attended by Environment and Climate Change Minister Savior Kasukuwere.
In the past five years, 61 people died in fires during the dry season. Millions of dollars worth of property and vast tracts of land were destroyed. Plantations, crops and pastures were destroyed by veld fires, forcing many people to go hungry. Research has shown that gold panners, people who fish at night, smokers, bee honey harvesters and hunters are the major culprits who cause the veld fires.
35 elephants burnt
In 2009, 10 people died while almost a million hectares of land was destroyed by these fires. In 2010, 25 people died and 1,15 million hectares of vegetation was destroyed. During that year, a sad case was witnessed in Debshen Farm in Somabhula when a 13-year-old herd boy was trapped in a veld fire with his cattle and died. The incident also saw the fire spreading into Insiza district where 35 elephants were burnt to ashes in a conservancy and six houses destroyed.
In 2011, five people died and 713,770 hectares of vegetation were destroyed. In 2012 16 people died and 1,32 million hectares were destroyed. Among those who died were two children aged four and five who were trapped when their parents left them behind during a stampede after their Apostolic Church at Calent farm in Shurugwi caught fire.
Twenty-one cars at a garage in Gwerus light industrial site were burnt to ashes the following year after the fire started in a nearby veld spread to the city. Nationally, five people died in separate fires while 1,17 million hectares were destroyed. A plant of Allied Timbers in Chirumanzu was also destroyed completely and a 13-year-old severely burnt in Shurugwi .
In an interview on what EMA is planning to avoid a repeat of such tragedies, the Planning and Monitoring Officer, William Berekwa, told The Zimbabwean that environmental committees had been established in communities throughout the country.
We have joined hands with communities in the fight against veld fires. Committees of villagers have been tasked with spearheading prevention campaigns. These teams, usually led by traditional leaders, have also been trained to put out fires. We have capacitated villagers to fight fires because usually outbreaks start in rural areas or farms. We have also given these crack teams equipment and combative clothing for fire-fighting. This development is a big step forward in the journey of ensuring no fatalities from veld fires this year, he said.
Berekwa added that a special machine that can detect a fire from hundreds of miles away had been placed in Harare to alert people on the ground when an outbreak happens in any corner of the country.
Strict on fire guards
Statutory Instrument 7 of 2007 that was given birth by the Forestry Acts Chapter 5 clearly compels all property owners of things like farms and other places that are at risk of catching fire to form fire breaks or guards.
The fire breaks are important in helping to stop the spread of veld fires. So we are going to be strict this time around by monitoring to see if everyone is adhering to that. Those who do not will be punished and once information of culprits being arrested or fined filters across societies, people will start to comply. This will help to reduce fire risks, he added.
According to the same law, no person is allowed to light a fire outside residential and commercial premises during this period from July to October of each year. Anyone who breaches this act could face imprisonment. We will monitor strict enforcement of this legislation, said Berekwa.
The EMA officer also highlighted that more extension methodologies in veld fires, where regular trainings will be conducted in high-risk areas, were in the pipeline.
Onesimo Bhasera, the EMAs Midlands Manager, said his province had borne the brunt of bad fires in the past few years – hence the need to go an extra mile in avoiding repetition of such a record this season.
Give us notice
The fire season is upon us. The grass is now dry and burns faster. Anyone willing to start a fire for whatever reason, except for domestic purposes such as cooking, should give two weeks notice.
The notice should be given to EMA, the Forestry Commission, and the police. Neighbours should also be notified in case the fire gets out of hand and one might want assistance in putting it out. We are going to see to it that this is what people do, because we cannot continue to have the fire disasters, said Bhasera.
Chief Chirumanzu ,whose jurisdiction covers the Mvuma Central Estates forestry which in the past have had high incidences of veld fires, said he and his subjects would work closely with EMA in ensuring that fire disasters are avoided. He appealed to government to help with more equipment and at least one roving vehicle per district that stays on stand-by for fire-fighting purposes.
Kasukuwere donated bicycles and motor cycles to fire-fighting committees in Midlands and said government was committed to fighting against fires. He promised to work with EMA on new ways of ensuring that people were safe from fire disasters.