Durban - KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (Edtea), Siboniso Duma, says much more needs to be done to protect the Richards Bay economy against disasters, including runway fires.
Duma was speaking after a fire broke out at the NCT Woodchip Mill in Richards Bay on Saturday amid extremely hot and windy conditions.
City of uMhlathuze spokesperson Bongani Gina said while it appeared that the fire originated at a conveyor belt used for the storage of wooden chips, a comprehensive investigation would be conducted to determine the precise cause of the fire.
Gina said wooden chip sparks were carried over John Ross Highway, igniting the green belt opposite it and spreading to the neighbouring residential area of Arboretum via Cassandra.
He said that by approximately 8.30pm the fire around the residential area was successfully brought under control by uMhlathuze Fire Services with assistance from various partners, including the Mondi Fire Services, Transnet Fire Services, South 32, Richards Bay Minerals and other private companies.
Gina said there were no reported deaths or loss of property.
“Our current focus remains on monitoring and addressing the ongoing fire at NCT, which is expected to require additional time, possibly even days, for complete containment,” he said in a statement on Sunday.
The MEC said the department received reports from its entity, the Richards Bay Industrial Development Zone (RBIDZ) following the fire, which raised concerns about the possible loss of businesses.
He said while the department was aware that fire brigade services were the responsibility of local municipalities, they were encouraging district municipalities to also play a support role in terms of the standardisation and co-ordination of functions.
“Our view is that should a fire outbreak reach a level larger than the capacity of a local municipality, Cogta must come together with a district municipality to augment local fire-fighting initiatives. This is exactly what Cogta planned to do last night.
“Critically, lessons from this fire outbreak is that firefighting services must be expanded beyond fire suppression,” said Duma. he added that fire prevention and public education should be the main focus.
“Everything must be done to ensure that, collectively, we prevent disasters that have the potential to destroy our economy.”
Speaking to The Mercury on Sunday, Cogta said the municipality was the relevant entity that would deal with a situation like the fire in terms of the municipality’s by-laws and all the applicable prescripts.
The municipality notified the community and road users passing NCT and Foskor on Sunday afternoon that an aerial operation would be taking place at the NCT premises at 4am on Monday morning.
The city said the aim of the operation is to suffocate burning stockpiles to kill the flames.
“This is done so as to shorten the period of burning, while at the same time ensuring that fire doesn’t spread to other industries,” said the municipality.
This operation involves the following:
- Arial fire fighting
- Helicopter realising dry chemical products.
The city said these flame extinguishing activities requires the evacuation of all personnel onside, road closure in the area of operation and clearance of the vicinity of fire.
“It therefore bears noting that John Ross Road will be closed from Foskor robots to East Central Arterial. Your cooperation will be highly appreciated in this regard.”