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Irresponsible people who lit open fires in spite of tinder-dry conditions have been slammed for inadvertently starting bush fires in northern KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo.
Exhausted firefighters last night returned to their bases after fighting runaway fires which should never have been ignited.
At least seven fires were recorded in KwaZulu-Natal yesterday, three on Saturday, and 16 fires on Friday.
Working on Fire’s KwaZulu Natal co-ordinator and dispatcher, Tracey Carter, said the worst affected areas were in Zululand with the Hluhluwe Game Reserve bearing the brunt of the blazes.
“At one stage we had two fires on the go simultaneously in Hluhluwe,” she said.
Trevor Wilson, manager of Mpumalanga’s Umbrella Fire Protection Association, said he was feeling “absolutely desperate” given that some people appeared oblivious to the high risk of fires and their catastrophic consequences.
“We are in serious trouble, our dams are only 20 percent full and the veld is so dry. There is not even enough water for us to use our heli-copters and bomber planes to put the fires out,” he said.
The northern fire season ends in October.
KZN Fire Protection Association operations manager Simon Thomas said teams were sent to several locations across KwaZulu-Natal this weekend.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife spokesman Musa Mntambo said a fire had been put out near the Hluhluwe Game Reserve at about 6pm yesterday after people from a nearby community set fire to grass.
He said that no-one nor animals were injured in the fire.
Dave Kleyn, also from Working on Fire, said there was a blaze in the Drakensberg near the Royal Natal National Park.
Carter said fighting wildfire in high winds was extremely dangerous. “I wish people who carelessly started fires would realise how they are endangering lives,” she said.
In Mpumalanga, the worst affected areas were Warburton and Piet Retief.
Aircraft sent out at the weekend were grounded late on Saturday owing to gale force winds.
Alwyn Kruger, Working on Fire’s provincial co-ordinator for Limpopo, said the worst fire was at Soekmekaar where 10 000ha of vegetation was burned.
“There was an extremely strong wind which, at one stage, was blowing at 64km/h,” he said.
“It happened so suddenly,” he said. “We were enjoying moderate weather when all of a sudden these high winds, ahead of a massive cold front, started to blow,” Kruger said.
Weather conditions cooled yesterday but dry vegetation and lack of rain in the eastern interior means the risk of wildfires remains high.