Mbombela – Mpumalanga residents have been warned to be on the alert for runaway fires as the dry winter season sets in.
Spokesman for the provincial Department of Co-Operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Simphiwe Kunene, said veld fires were common this time of the year due to dry and windy weather.
“Now that the fire season has started, the department would like to request residents to make sure that they do not start fires in the open veld, that all fires are controlled and that they make sure that fires are completely put out before leaving an area,” said Kunene on Wednesday.
Kunene also urged residents to consider weather conditions before lighting a fire and warned smokers not to throw away burning cigarette stubs in the open veld.
“Landowners are urged to join their local fire protection associations to ensure compliance and also receive fire advisories. The department has also instructed all municipalities to be on full alert and standby for any possible fires,” Kunene added.
Kunene further appealed to residents to urgently report any fires to their nearest fire station.
“We would like to strongly appeal to people of the province to help us avoid fires like the ones that ravaged the province in 2007,” added Kunene.
In 2007, the wildfires started on July 26 and by the first week of September, 13 people, including six fire fighters. In this period, 40 200 hectares of plantations and 16 000 hectares of grazing fields were destroyed.
In 2008, the fires began in April, lasting until October, during which time four people, including a fire fighter, were killed and 325 injured in some of the 67 fires that raged across the province.
The fires also devastated 33 000 hectares of vegetation, including trees in commercial forestry plantations. Forestry South Africa, the country’s premier and largest forestry organisation representing growers of timber, reported that Mpumalanga’s forestry sector was hardest hit by the 2008 fires, suffering losses estimated at R3.5 billion.
Between June and August last year, only 115 fires were reported in the province, compared to 153 in the same period in 2009.
Kunene said the province’s response to disasters such as wildfires had improved in the past years since 2007.
“After the 2007 fires we put together the provincial disaster management advisory forum, including stakeholders such as Working on Fire, which came up with a disaster management framework,” said Kunene.
He said the forum had been a key factor in the province’s success in reducing the damage caused by fires in recent years.
He said recommendations of a team of investigators that probed the cause of the 2007 fires were also strictly implemented.
“Some of the recommendations were that all local municipalities ensure that they have detailed disaster management plans and frameworks, disaster management centres and satellite stations,” Kunene said.
Kunene said community awareness campaigns also targetted schools and general communities to teach the public about the dangers of fires after it was found that negligence was one of the main causes of the 2007 fires.
“We also enforced regulations for landowners to make firebreaks each year prior to the fire season and to ensure safety precautions when doing so. We installed road signage warning about the danger of fires and increased area patrol during the fire season,” Kunene added.
He said human negligence, like discarding burning cigarette stubs and abandoning domestic fires, and natural occurrences like lightning, exacerbated by strong winds, were the usual causes of fires in Mpumalanga. – Sydney Masinga, BuaNews
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