Kimberley - Millions of rands of damage was incurred on farms in the Boshof district following a runaway veld fire that damaged 60 000 hectares of land over the weekend.
Farmers in the area believe that someone had lit a fire to heat up a can of food in the veld and the fire then spread quickly and ferociously due to the strong winds and intense heat on Saturday afternoon.
They indicated that farmers and residents from as far as Kimberley, Bloemfontein, Hopetown, Bultfontein, Hertzogville and Dealesville had assisted in putting out the fire.
“Everyone worked tirelessly throughout the night and did not hesitate to help. Some of the farmhouses caught alight and farmers lost all their belongings.”
Hot, dry and strong winds are expected to persist over the next few days, with the South African Weather Service yesterday issuing a heatwave and fire warning for the Northern Cape and Free State.
The spokesperson for the SAPS in the Free State, Warrant Officer Lorraine Earle, said yesterday that the police were investigating a case of arson.
“Members of the police yesterday estimated that about 60 000 hectares of open veld and farmland was ravaged. Wild animals, livestock and horses died and property was also damaged in the process,” Earle said.
“The fire was allegedly started by an open fire that was lit along the side of the road. The exact details are still under investigation.”
She added that the exact value of the damage had yet to be determined.
“Several farms were affected and damages are estimated to run into millions of rands. No arrests have been made yet.”
Chairperson of the Boshof fire association Willem van Niekerk said satellite imagery had shown that over 30 farms were affected by the disaster.
“The photographs do not show the loss of wildlife, such as tortoises, birds and smaller animals. Underground and irrigation pipes, infrastructure, equipment and fences were also destroyed in the process.
“Livestock will also not have any grazing land and generous farmers have offered to provide fodder to the affected farmers,” said Van Niekerk.
“We will welcome any form of assistance, such as two-way radios, more water points, assistance in repairing fences and training, as farm workers are not equipped to deal with putting out fires.”
He added that members of the public had assisted in putting out the fire.
“We received calls from Wolmaransstad and Christiana offering to help as the smoke clouds were visible from afar. We do not have a fire brigade and we had to manually beat the flames. Volunteers risked their lives as they were working in unfamiliar terrain.
“My boots even melted on the hot soil. Thankfully there were no injuries and no lives were lost in the process. Farm workers willingly assisted without asking for anything in return.”
Van Niekerk stated that they had set up a committee to assist the farmers and their livestock.
“The grass is extremely dry and we have had very little rain this season. It will take a long time for the soil to recover. The fire danger is not over and we need to take precautions to prevent more runaway fires. We cannot sit around idly until the next disaster strikes.
“Unnecessary expenses have been incurred that could instead have gone towards production, infrastructure or employing more workers.”