150 000ha of Free State grazing lost to veld fires

More than 150 000ha of grazing land was destroyed by veld fires in the Free State during the weekend of 11 and 12 August 2012.

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Free State Agriculture (FSA) chairperson Dan Kriek said the long-term effects of the fires are a cause for concern. As it is, the province is suffering from drought, he said. This makes the loss of grazing even more disastrous, because it could mean there won’t be any spare grazing available to accommodate livestock from the burnt areas. “We need all the help we can get to assist the affected farmers. We can’t expect any government assistance and are reliant on ourselves.”

Tinus Steenkamp, vice-chairperson of the Free State Fire Association, said the most pressing need over the short term was for animal feed, lick and hay. Game, for instance, cannot be moved and must be taken care of in the burnt-out camps.
Furthermore, not only is additional grazing scarce, the nutritional value of the veld available is poor due to the drought, said Steenkamp. At the time of writing, Working on Fire provincial co-ordinator Saayman Rossouw said 10 fires had occurred in the Free State in August so far.

Some 20 head of cattle succumbed to the devastating veld fires in Dewetsdorp. According to Malcolm Procter, deputy director of Free State Veld and Bush Fire Oversight, cause of death was mostly due to smoke inhalation, not burns. Photo courtesy of Malcolm Procter

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Nearly 57 000ha was destroyed in Memel, 65 000ha in Dewetsdorp and a total of about 20 000ha in Kroonstad, Viljoenskroon, Vredefort and other areas. “We would never have been able to manage these fires without the co-operation of the landowners and farm workers,” said Roussouw. The fires’ origins had yet to be determined at the time of going to print, but strong winds of up to 75km/h caused the conflagration to spread widely.

Steenkamp said the wind blew the flames over 70m firebreaks in Memel. The fire damage there is estimated to be at least R13 million. According to Steenkamp, 30 farmers in the Memel district were affected by the fire. Loss of grazing alone is estimated at R4,5 million, calculated at R350/ha. It will cost about R1,2 million to replace the 200 cattle burnt or killed. In addition, it will cost R65 000 to replace the 50 sheep hurt or killed, R65 000 for the 30 horses and R150 000 for the 50 Kashmir goats. Replacing 450km of fencing will cost an estimated R4,98 million.

Deputy director of Free State Veld and Bush Fire Oversight, Malcolm Procter said wind speeds as high as 87km/hour were measured at Dewetsdorp. “Strong winds can be expected for the rest of August. Farmers must be vigilant and stay on their farms as far as possible.” 

FSA chairperson Dan Kriek has asked Farmer’s Weekly readers who want to assist the fire-stricken farmers to contact Sulene Oosthuizen at 051 444 4609. “We’ve already received a considerable donation from Voermol in the form of products. Any other assistance will be highly appreciated,” he said.