The ‘Western Cape Provincial Government Veld Fire Plan 2014/15’ was adopted on 27 November last year. In it, EP du Toit of the Fire & Rescue Services of the Western Cape writes that he looks forward “to yet another successful and safe fire season”.
How a fire can be contained or prevented
“Partnerships between the City of Cape Town, Table Mountain National Park, Cape Winelands DM, Overberg DM, Eden DM, West Coast DM, Provincial Government, Working on Fire, Cape Pine, Cape Nature and the Fire Prevention Associations [have] been strengthened, and will again result in fires being secured in their incipient stages or the spread and impact of larger fires being reduced,” he predicted.
As I write this, the noise of the helicopters and aircraft reverberate overhead as these magnificent men in their flying machines kill the last flickering embers of the inferno that has enveloped the slopes of Table Mountain.
They have put it out, but I am not sure that EP du Toit and the people who have lost their homes will consider this another “successful and safe fire season”. On the contrary, it has been a disaster.
The big question is: could it have been avoided?
It is quite clear from a perusal of the veld fire plan that the Western Cape government and the many organisations with which it co-operates had done their homework. To their great credit, despite the magnitude of the threat they faced, they did contain the damage. But they will be far from happy with the result, and will be going back to the drawing board.
The danger facing farmers
I have been wondering just how well-prepared South Africa’s farmers are, individually and collectively, to handle a threat on the scale which we have just witnessed. I regret that my conclusion has to be negative, as I cannot recall a ‘fire season’ when we have not suffered farm devastation due to fire.
Will we ever get through a year when veld fires lead to no loss of life and food production? What needs to be done?
Far be it for me to offer suggestions on the complex mechanics of containing and extinguishing fires, but of one thing I am sure: unless our farmers prepare to fight fires collectively and professionally, making use of experts in the field, we will see little change.
Collaboration: essential for fire-fighting
With fires having little respect for farm boundaries, effective local leadership and co-operation are crucial. Everyone has a key role to play in preventing and fighting veld fires. Fire authorities, landowners, land managers, planning authorities, local councils and the community – each needs to be drawn into the planning and execution.
Look again at the myriad organisations mentioned by EP du Toit.
If you are not a member of, or playing an active role in, a communal firefighting organisation, get involved. It could save your business and even your life.
This article was originally published in the 17 April 2015 issue of Farmers Weekly.