Lauren Howard, spokesperson for the government’s Working on Fire (WoF) programme, explained that this was due to the good rainfall, which had resulted in high vegetation fuel loads, over the 2016/17 summer months.
Simon Thomas, the KwaZulu-Natal Fire Protection Association operations manager, explained that “[Vegetation] fuel levels are quite high after the fairly good rains”, and that “high fuel loads mean the potential for big fires is higher if not managed”.
He added that “the preparing of tracer belts should already be happening”, and that an unusually warm winter could minimise the frosts necessary to dry grass sufficiently to effectively burn firebreaks.
Thomas urged landowners to ensure that they had sufficient functioning firefighting equipment, and that their staff had been trained to use the equipment.
He emphasised communication and preparedness, saying “Check with your neighbours as well. Join your local fire protection association and ensure that you are aware of its fire management rules and regulations. Be part of the local radio network.”
Howard said SA’s winter fire season typically runs from 1 June to the first spring rains at around the end of October, but that this could vary.
“Just over 4 000 [WoF] firefighters, stationed at 160 bases, will be ready for the start of the winter fire season,” she added.
The WoF programme has already launched community fire awareness campaigns to teach communities to be “FireSafe” and to prevent unwanted veld and forest fires.
To respond quickly to fires, it has partnered with provincial disaster management centres, fire protection associations, SA National Parks, local municipalities, and public and private landowners.
The WoF urges landowners to contact the programme for assistance with developing integrated fire management plans such as prescribed burning, fuel load reduction, community fire awareness, early fire detection, and fire suppression.