Protection services brace for fresh wave of devastating wildfires as hot, windy weather is expected this weekend
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Shirley le Guern
Durban - THE danger of massive wildfires such as the one that destroyed thousands of hectares of farmland, forests and bushveld at the weekend is not over yet.
Fire protection services are bracing for another weekend of potentially dangerous fires with hot, windy conditions expected this Sunday in the interior of the province.
Simon Thomas, operations manager at the KwaZulu-Natal Fire Protection Association, said the full impact of Sunday’s fires was yet to be quantified.
He said that in the Mid-Illovo area alone, large amounts of both mature and juvenile cane had been lost, estimated to total around 100000 tons. This would impact on both this year’s and next year’s season.
More than 300 to 400 hectares of timber land had also been burnt with a substantial amount of harvested timber stacked for transport and export having been destroyed.
There was also the high cost of fighting the massive fires.
Thomas said that every firefighting plane in the province had been deployed.
These planes cost R17000 an hour to operate.
Sandy la Marque, chief executive of the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union (Kwanalu), warned that the devastating fires could have a direct impact on the economic sustainability of farmers.
“With the significant direct losses suffered, this will also spill over into their ability to provide employment, future investment and growth. The agricultural sector and its farmers in these communities are already under pressure due to the impact of Covid-19.
“This added disaster just creates another hurdle to be overcome,” she said.
Terry Tedder, fire protection officer for the Richmond Fire Protection Association, said that on Sunday there had been fires in Thornville, Richmond, Camperdown, Eston and Mid-Illovo.
The worst-hit areas were Eston and Mid-Illovo where 15 farms were badly burnt.
The damage included the destruction of the Gwahumbe Game Lodge and Spa.
“Fires started just after 9.30am on Sunday and raged until the early hours of Monday morning with many landowners and their employees only getting home as it was getting light.
“Many others had to evacuate with their pets and belongings, only to return afterwards to find that their homes had survived despite the lawns having burnt right up to the homes,” Tedder said.
The fire covered an area of around 19km in length and 8km wide in a few hours.
He said conditions had been severe with firefighters only able to work at the sides and the back of fires to try to stop them from spreading sideways.
“The rural community of Nhlazuka in the Mid-Illovo area also had numerous fires with reports of a few houses burning down and many losing the roofs due to the extreme winds.
“Local fire departments did try to assist but many of the areas were inaccessible due to the conditions,” Tedder added.
La Marque said that while the extreme weather conditions played a major role in contributing to the fires, greater vigilance and education was required to minimise the devastating impact of wildfires.
Thomas said there would be a full investigation to establish the cause.