Fire-fighting resources stay on high alert due to drought

Ongoing tinder-dry and hot conditions in South Africa’s drought-stricken summer rainfall areas are keeping fire-fighting resources on high alert.

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In a year of typical rainfall these resources would have been winding down their operations by now.

The government-funded Working on Fire (WoF) programme said that its 5 000 fire-fighters at 200 bases across the country remained on high-alert.

The KwaZulu-Natal Fire Protection Association (KZNFPA) said that its fire-fighting aircraft also remained on standby in case of a wildfire in the province.

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Despite the drought conditions, WoF said that it had been called out to attend to 1 700 fires in the 2015 fire-season in SA’s summer rainfall areas in comparison to the 2 700 fires that it had attended to last year.

WoF spokesperson, Linton Rensburg, said that the reduction in wildfires this year had largely been as a result of rural landowners and communities being better prepared, a successful nationwide fire awareness campaign, government and private sector entities working closely together to manage wildfire risks, and top quality training to WoF firefighters.

The KZNFPA’s operations Manager, Simon Thomas, said that his association was monitoring fire risks in the province on a week-to-week basis. This would decide when fire-fighting aircraft could eventually stand down.

“At this time of year we would normally see storms building up in the afternoons and the province getting at least 50mm of rain every few days on a regular basis. This year we’re not seeing this. In some places the grass looks green but it is barely alive. There is also dry material under the canopies of trees,” said Thomas.

The KZNFPA continued to send out Fire Danger Index notices to its members, and KZN’s Fire Protection Associations were discouraging their members from conducting any risky burns, such as that of brushwood.