Johannesburg - Wildfires fanned by gale-force winds have ravaged large tracts of land in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, the Working on Fire programme (WoF) said on Sunday.
In Mpumalanga, WoF assisted at 19 wildfires between Friday and Sunday. During the same period, it assisted at a further 16 in KwaZulu-Natal and six in Limpopo.
Working on Fire appealed to people to be aware of the risks involved in starting fires.
Trevor Wilson, manager of Mpumalanga's Umbrella Fire Protection Association, and WoF general manager in the province, said he was “absolutely desperate” that people were so oblivious to the risk in starting fires that ended catastrophically.
“We are in serious trouble, our dams are only 20-percent full and the veld is so dry,” he said.
“There is not even enough water for us to use our helicopters and bomber planes to put the wild fires out.”
The wildfire season runs from June to October in the northern parts of South Africa, which coincides with the dry season.
Warburton and Piet Retief were the worst affected areas in the province.
In Limpopo, 10 000 hectares of vegetation were burned in Soekmekaar, said provincial co-ordinator Alwyn Kruger.
“There was an extremely strong wind which, at one stage, was blowing at 64km/h,” he said.
“It happened so suddenly. We were enjoying moderate weather when all of a sudden these high winds, ahead of a massive cold front, started to blow.”
All WoF's teams remained on high alert, he said.
In KwaZulu-Natal, provincial 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 wildfires on the go simultaneously in Hluhluwe,” she said.
“I wish people who carelessly started fires would realise how they are endangering lives. To fight a wildfire in high winds is extremely dangerous.”
Weather conditions cooled late on Saturday but the dry vegetation and lack of rain in the eastern interior meant the fire risk remained high, she said. - Sapa