The destructive nature of fire and the loss to people’s lives and property are very fresh in the minds of many.

“While insurers are yet to calculate the value of the damage in the Southern Cape, it would be impossible to quantify the personal loss of such devastation to families, their homes and possessions as well as businesses in the area,” says Michael Peter, executive director of Forestry South Africa. “In forestry terms, the annual loss to the economy in timber and wood products due to fires is estimated at around some R3 billion.”

During 2016, an estimated 6 000 wild fires occurred, burning close to 500 000 hectares of land (including grasslands and trees) in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. These fires not only endangered the lives and homesteads of local residents but put numerous fire fighting teams at considerable risk.

There is little doubt over the threat of major fires; both in terms of human life and suffering, the threat to animals, and the potential economic consequences of a blaze in both timber plantations and indigenous forests.

Just one spark can start a fire that can damage tree plantations and crops, livestock and houses – and threaten people’s lives. And as we have witnessed these past few weeks in the areas of Knysna, Plettenberg Bay and Port Elizabeth, strong winds can change a fire’s ferocity within seconds.

“But we can work together to report forest and veld fires quickly to prevent further devastation,” Peter says.

Be fire-wise

Last year, Forestry South Africa in collaboration the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) launched the Fire-Wise campaign to create awareness of the very real danger of fires during the dry winter months.

Practical advice may seem to be common sense but in a fire situation, things can go from bad to worse in seconds.

o      Remember that all fires start small so act fast. Report fires – no matter their size – to the local fire protection services.

o      Don’t start a fire you cannot stop.

o      Don’t try to stop a raging fire without proper training and equipment.

o      Caution children and neighbours about the dangers of fire, and encourage them to be responsible.

o      Never leave a fire unattended.

o      Take care with candles and lamps. They can get knocked over and start a fire very quickly.

o      Never throw a match or cigarette into dry grass or bush.

o      Smoldering coals can easily be re-ignited by a gust of wind. Douse them properly with sand and water.

o      Fire protection associations all over South Africa have been on fire alert since mid-May. Official open-fire prohibition is from August to the end of October.

For more information on Forestry South Africa’s fire safety initiatives, click here.

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