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Rumours of toxic fumes from burning wood chips, massive job losses are false, says mill

Firefighting efforts are continuing at the NCT woodchip mill in Richards Bay. | Screenshot

Firefighting efforts are continuing at the NCT woodchip mill in Richards Bay. | Screenshot

Published Oct 4, 2023


Durban – NCT Forestry, the company affected by the fires in Richards Bay, has assured the public that rumours about toxic fumes from the burning wood chips and imminent and massive job losses are speculation.

That was according to NCT general manager Danny Knoesen who provided an update on the fires on Tuesday.

Knoesen said that aerial bombers and a large contingent of ground forces and specialised machines were being used to prevent the fire from spreading to any of the neighbouring industries and residents.

He said considerable assistance was being rendered by NCT forest operations, the municipality, and many local businesses.

Knoesen said NCT was grateful for this support and goodwill. All of these contributors would be formally acknowledged and thanked once the fire was deemed to be under control.

Firefighting efforts are continuing at the NCT wood chip mill in Richards Bay. | uMhlathuze Municipality

“During this time of crisis, it is concerning to note speculative rumours surfacing about toxic fumes from the burning wood chips and imminent and massive job losses. NCT assures the public that these are pure speculation.

“The wood chips NCT have in stock are merely small pieces of raw wood (as you would use on your braai fire) with no added chemicals. Furthermore, there is absolutely no talk of job losses. NCT as a co-operative is fully invested in the needs of its staff and valued members comprising independent growers and suppliers, and definitely plans to rebuild. We need people to do this,” Knoesen said.

“Any comments as to the origin of the fire must also remain pure speculation at this juncture. The site is too dangerous to access and assess at present and absolutely no investigation has been conducted to date. There are simply no facts to work on currently.”

He said the chip piles were likely to burn for a considerable time and at present, all that could be done was to cool them down and prevent the fire from spreading. Extinguishing it was going to be a long process.

According to their website, NCT is a marketing co-operative catering to the needs of private and independent timber growers. It is regarded as the largest forestry marketing organisation in southern Africa, with approximately 1 800 shareholding members, representing a total area of 300 000 hectares – 21% of afforested land in South Africa.

NCT is recognised as an international supplier of round wood timber, hardwood pulp and biomass chips.

On Tuesday evening, uMhlathuze Municipality deputy mayor Christo Botha thanked Samco Pumps for providing a pump and resources, and the Schoonhoven family for donating 800 litres of diesel. He said the water tankers could now be filled in a few minutes at the site of the fire.

Earlier, he was at the back of NCT where another system was being installed that would fill the water tankers in a short space of time.

uMhlathuze councillor Henning de Wet said firefighters from the City of uMhlathuze are still combating the fire at NTC.

“Efforts are also continuing to protect the fire from spreading to the TWK stockpiles,” De Wet said.

“The wind is expected to turn tomorrow (Wednesday) towards the residential areas, so please note that for a short period, you can expect increasing levels of smoke. Please note that there is no reason to panic at this stage.”

He added that all personnel on site remain resolute and extremely positive.

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