Arson costs Free State farmers millions

A report on the eastern Free State veld fires that destroyed 151 000ha and cost farmers R121 million was submitted to the MEC by Dr Thuso Masiteng, agricultural support services director in the Free State agriculture department.

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“The premier has seen these figures and supports our call for disaster-relief funds,” said Dr Masiteng.“The report is now with the national agriculture department who will approach Treasury.”

Bethlehem Fire Protection Association’s chief fire officer Charl Genis said cases of arson had been opened at the Fouriesburg and Clarens police stations.“One of the fires was started on the Lesotho border,” noted Charl. “This has happened before, it’s something of a trend.

The other fire, which was started on the eastern side of Fouriesburg, was also definitely arson.“The whole area where the fire raged, from Rosendal to Fouriesburg, is estimated to be 130 000ha and people are very p*ssed off.”

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Agriculture department spokesperson Malcolm Procter said between 60 000ha and 70 000ha of the 236 000ha burnt by fire in the Free State this year was as a result of early burning. At R800/ha, which is the guide the Free State agriculture department uses to value losses, early burning has cost farmers around R56 million.

“It’s traditional to burn for early grazing, but we’re now saying let’s do this when the rains are here,” said Procter. “In Senekal they were fighting fires on one side of town, and there was a farmer burning for early grazing on the other side. It’s just not on.” Procter said there was a definite trend in fires being started on weekends.