Farmers and Veldt Fires

Farmers and Veldt Fires

10 September 2014

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Zimbabwe — Veldt fires have become one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time, causing unprecedented damage to Zimbabwe’s natural resources, forests, animal habitat and even leading to the loss of lives and valuable property.

Simply defined, veldt fires are blazes that get out of control, become wild, and destroy extensive tracts of forests, grasslands, animals, people and their properties in the process.

The Agency is concerned about high incidences of veldt fires recorded since the beginning of the fire season on the July 31.

A total of 103 fire incidents have been recorded, destroying 226 783 hectares of land and claiming two lives.

This is despite concerted efforts to engage stakeholders in the fight against veldt fires. This year the Agency embraced the “indaba approach,” in order to raise awareness on fires.

The indabas are aimed at conscientising communities and stakeholders on their responsibilities regarding fire management.

To date the Agency has held 163 fire indabas, constructed a cumulative 1311, 6kmstretch of fire guards, trained over 441 fire fighting teams across the country and continues to engage communities in hay bailing projects aimed at reducing the fuel load.

Environmental protection requires that all of us participate in environmental management in general and fire prevention in particular.

The law criminalises starting of fires outside of places of residence from the 31st of July to the 31st October unless a 14 day notice has been given to EMA, ZRP and neighbours. A 24 hour notice must also be given to the above mentioned institutions before burning. It is worrying that most people continue to disregard this legal requirement resulting in the destruction of the environment, loss of lives and property.

In order to curb veld fires the Agency is working with the police through the EMA/ZRP Best Station Awards and this has yielded positive results as the police have stepped up efforts to educate and arrest perpetrators.

Veld fires are prevalent during this time of the year because of conducive weather conditions such as strong winds, hot temperatures and arid conditions which promote the spread of fires. During this period the fuel load (e.g. dry leaves, wood, dead plants and grass) is dry and more susceptible to fires.

The heavy rains that the country received in the previous agricultural season have resulted in high biomass which drives the spread and increases the intensity of fires.

Causes of veldt fires

Research by the Agency over the years revealed that most veld fires are human induced fires, as a result of activities such as land clearing, hunting, smoking of bees for honey harvesting amongst others. Below are some of the documented veld fire causes:

Reckless disposal of lit cigarette stubs;

Lighting fires at road servitudes while waiting for early morning buses;

Deliberate lighting of fires/arson;

Children playing with matches; and

Improper household ash disposal.

What have been the fire trends?

Last year 4 people died as a result of veldt fires, the least figure since 2009. The Agency continues to raise awareness on veldt fires and work with communities in fire prevention projects such as fire guard construction, hay bailing and the training fire fighting teams. All of us have a role to play in veldt fire prevention, let us ensure that we do not start fires that we cannot contain.

How can communities prevent veldt fires?

Fire prevention is the best option to minimise the risks associated with veldt fires. This can be achieved through the establishment and maintenance of fire guards.

Fire guards are designed to provide access and a safe environment for fire fighting teams to implement controlled burning and effectively manage wildfires.

The existing roads and tracks also provide the foundation to implement fire management activities.

Fire guards must be constructed before the fire season; anyone without a fire guard during the fire season commits an offence. Communities are also encouraged to:

Form Fire Fighting teams in their farms and villages;

Have fire alert systems such as drums, whistles and bells;

Inspect fire guards to make sure that they are free from combustible material;

Ensure that fire fighting equipment is in place, fire beaters, bowsers/knapsack sprayers filled with water during the fire season; and

Listen to weather personnel on the fire danger index so as to improve their state of preparedness.

Conducting mock drills so as to keep communities alert and equipped with fire fighting skills.

Get involved in sustainable bee keeping projects to avoid smoking of bees.

Plough back the crop residue for increased organic manure to avoid land clearing using fires.

Keep small livestock like rabbits, pigeons and chickens to avoid hunting where fire is used to trap animals.

What does the law say?

Statutory Instrument 7 of 2007 Environmental Management (Environmental Impact Assessment and Ecosystems Protection) Regulations states that:

It is the duty of the land user, owner, or designated authority to put in place fire prevention measures;

No person shall deliberately cause a fire outside residential or commercial premises during the fire season (July 31-October 31);

The land user, owner, farmer, lesee, designated authority is responsible for extinguishing all fires on their property regardless of the origin of the fire; and

In the case of a fire outbreak any person within the vicinity of the fire other than the user or the owner of that land must extinguish the fire.

The Agency encourages everyone to take heed of the above advice so that we reduce the occurrences of veld fires in the country. Reduction of veld fires is everyone’s responsibility, play your part.

Please report all fire incidences to the nearest ZRP, EMA or Forestry Commission offices within 7 working days.

Stop destroying the environment, let us all take part in maintaining healthy ecosystems.

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