‘Unnecessary’ fires ravage the eastern Free State

Veld fires in the eastern Free State destroyed 151 000ha of grazing land, mainly in the Willem Pretorius and Fouriesburg farming districts, in early September.

“That brings the total destroyed land for the province to 236 000ha this year,” said the agriculture department’s spokesperson Malcolm Procter. The latest fires destroyed 65 000ha in Fouriesburg, 35 000ha near Ladysmith and more than 20 000ha around Willem Pretorius. Procter said all fires were under control by 7 September.

“What gets to me is the fact that of 82 000ha that had burned by the end of August, 42 000ha were destroyed by fires that began by people burning land for early grazing. These fires then ran away,” he added.  “The Willem Pretorius fire was caused by the same thing, and it’s totally unnecessary. I really feel for those farmers who can no longer work their farms through no fault of their own.”

Dr Thuso Masiteng, chief director of support services in the Free State agriculture department, is filing a report to the MEC, asking that the affected regions be declared disaster areas.

Procter knew of two farm houses that had been burned, and three bakkies. Three cattle died near Bethlehem, and in the Willem Pretorius area a “significant”, but as yet unsubstantiated, number of game and cattle had perished.The bill for the firefighting efforts hadn’t been worked out, but it would be large.

“The two firefighting helicopters we have for the area cost R11 000/hour to run. Then we had two Air Force helicopters join the effort from Waterkloof, costing R39 000/hour, so you can imagine what the costs are going to be after four days of non-stop flying.”