The most serious wildfires of the 2008 KwaZulu-Natal fire season has so far seen injuries, the loss of human life, livestock, buildings and agricultural infrastructure, and thousands of hectares of timber plantation, grazing and cropland razed to the ground. he KZN Agriculture Union (Kwanalu) was scathing of municipal officials in the province, saying that while farming communities had spent days bravely fighting fires little or no help was provided by municipalities.
In a media statement Kwanalu president Robin Barnsley and the union’s CEO Sandy La Marque also hinted at allegations that some areas where the fires started were linked to “land claim issues”. rustration levels are boiling over and it’s believed that fires could help to push people off their land. The union criticised government for taking so long to give financial assistance to farmers and landowners affected by the devastating wildfires of 2007. Kwanalu called on the government to become proactive instead of reactive to disaster management, and to act swiftly to mobilise aid and disaster relief for the agricultural sector. – Lloyd Phillips
Wildfires scorch SA farmland
Runaway fires fuelled by strong wind caused severe damage to farmland across the country recently. Thousands of hectares of land, plantations and sheds, houses and game farms have been destroyed. The reported 120 separate fires claimed 20 lives and left many injured, homeless and distraught. By 1 September 49 fires had been reported in Mpumalanga which had resulted in three deaths and six serious injuries. It has been reported that almost a 1 000 sheep and 500 cattle died in fire in that region. A ndré Scheepers, the provincial spokesperson for Working on Fire, said that 22 000ha of land had been affected in Mpumalanga.
Residents of Kaapsche Hoop guest farm near Nelspruit fled after fire rampaged through a plantation adjacent to the farm. KwaZulu-Natal’s fatalities were much higher at 14. In the Melmoth region it’s reported that at least 5 000ha of commercial land had been destroyed. The fires were rampant throughout the province even into the Drakensberg. F ree State farms were hit hard with 7 000ha of farmland damaged around Bethlehem and Warden.
Farmers lost sheep, cattle and other livestock. Henk Vermeulen CEO of Free State agriculture said the farming body, with officials from the Department of Agriculture, would start visiting farms ravaged by fire on 2 September. He said a bank account would be announced for donations to help distressed farmers. he number of fires reported by the South African Press Association at the time of going to print were 49 in Mpumalanga, 40 in Kwazulu-Natal, 14 in Limpopo, 11 in the Free State, five in Gauteng and one in the North West. Although most of the fires were under control, provinces remained on high alert. – Rudi Massyn