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Durban - Farmers across the province are on high alert on Wednesday, fearing a repeat of raging veld fires that left a trail of destruction at the long weekend.
KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union chief executive Sandy le Marque said on Tuesday that a team from the organisation visited Kokstad and Matatiele.
“It was devastating to see the extent of the loss. Extensive grazing land was lost and bales were burnt in their thousands,” she said.
A large number of injured livestock were still being put down by late Tuesday.
“A lot of sheep perished and a lot of farming equipment and housing was destroyed,” she said. “When we were flying in and out today, there were still fires raging.”
Early estimations, she said, were that about 25 000 hectares of farm land had been destroyed.
The organisation met about 120 farmers, but many could not attend as they were attending to damage on their farms.
KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nomusa Dube and MEC for Agriculture and Environmental Affairs Cyril Xaba, visited the affected areas and assessed the damage for themselves on Tuesday .
“We can confirm there were 200 households affected across the province and a total of six people lost their lives (four in Kokstad and two in Abaqulusi/Vryheid Municipality). Six people were injured,” Dube-Ncube said.
She said a joint organising committee had been “activated” and the disaster teams were working “tirelessly to assist the victims”.
“The cost of the overall disaster cannot be confirmed yet as more detailed assessments are still being conducted to include the impact on the agricultural sector. At this stage there is no consideration for declaring the affected areas as disaster areas,” she said.
Xaba said the destruction was a “setback” to rural development, as more money would be needed to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure.
He vowed to support the farmers with emergency feed.
Dube-Ncube warned that the province was still experiencing strong winds and called on the public to be on full alert.
Bill Kruse on Tuesday told The Mercury how hikers from the Eshowe Ramblers club found their path cut off by a fire at Injasuthi in the Drakens-berg when they were returning from Battle Cave.
“We sought refuge atop a 5m rock. We were not prepared to chance the wind direction changing and having to outrun the fire, and also decided against heading for the river due to the thick smoke in the valley and the difficulty for the two toddlers with us over rocks,” he said.
He said they were finally able to make their way down the normal path which was then “clearly visible”. Three other parties found themselves in the same predicament and, using different tactics, all made it back to camp, he said.
He said one lone hiker chanced the flames and ran through. “We saw him later back at camp and he was very shaken,” said Kruse.
Aslam Sardiwalla, SA Weather Service forecaster, said the conditions were a phenomenon in the central and eastern parts of the country between May and August. He said there was no indication of conditions experienced at the weekend prevailing in the near future.