Free State’s veld fire battle not over

Farmers in the province are scrambling to transport feed to livestock after the loss of vast amounts of grazing. All possible precautions should be taken to prevent further devastation amid high-risk weather conditions

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The South African Weather Service has issued warnings of high temperatures that may lead to runaway veld fires over the western parts of the Free State today. The weather warning comes as farmers are still counting their losses following fires that ripped through various parts of the province last week.

It has been a rough time for farmers in the Free State with more than 340 000 hectares of agricultural land having been engulfed. Free State Agriculture (FSA) reports that some farmers lost everything.

Notable fires started on 14 September in Harrismith, Parys, Brandfort, Golden Gate, Jagersfontein and Rosendal and were fuelled by strong winds of up to 50km/h.

While it has not been confirmed how long the fires lasted, speculations by farmers estimate that it took up to three hours for firefighters to contain some blazes.

Meanwhile the weather service (SAWS) says it expects more runaway veld fires in parts of the province from today. Damaging winds with a windspeed of over 40 km/h are also expected.  

“Frontal systems will be responsible for severe weather conditions this coming week and warmer temperatures will be experienced later in the week,” SAWS said.

ALSO READ: Farmers picking up pieces after devastating Free State fire

Shortages adding fuel to fire

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According to Jacques van Rensburg, FSA regional representative in the Kopanong local municipality, the massive wildfires have led to huge losses in the area.

Farmers are however still counting their losses and will only have a better idea of the extent of the damage later this week.

Jacques van Rensburg, Free State Agriculture regional representative in the Kopanong local municipality. Photo: Supplied/FSA

“What’s currently happening is that friends and neighbours of affected farmers are moving livestock to their farms or other farms for safekeeping. The past weekend, lorries were running [back and forth] with livestock.”

After a devastating veld fire, it is difficult for farmers to get back on their feet and animal feed shortages add fuel to the fire. According to Van Rensburg it is crucial that affected farmers get feed as soon as possible.  

“So many places have burnt down already, so we don’t have an abundance of feed left anymore. The focus now is on getting feed for the animals that survived. A large percentage of our farming is grazing on veld, and we don’t have lucerne banks in our area,” he explains.

Immediate help and emergency relief

With little support from the Free State department of agriculture and rural development, farmers have had to rely on good-hearted citizens who make donations and offer aid. 

Free State Agriculture president Francois Wilken. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi
Free State Agriculture president Francois Wilken. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

The president of FSA, Francois Wilken, says that they are grateful to the many people who do excellent work in disaster relief.

Witnessing the losses of farmers in the province, they have decided to establish a disaster fund. “The disaster fund ensures that the aid gets out quickly and directly to where it is most needed,” says Wilken.

He adds that this emergency fund will be used for immediate help and emergency relief. “We immediately make money available for diesel so that feeds can be [transported] there.”

Farmers, be prepared

Jan de Villiers, operational manager of the Free State Umbrella Fire Protection Association (FSUFPA) advises farmers to take the necessary fire risk precautions as warmer temperatures for the province are predicted.

“No open fires are permitted except in specially designed fireplaces, hot work with machinery in open areas should be minimised and fire extinguishing equipment must be on site,” De Villiers says.

Farmers are also encouraged to keep personnel and firefighting equipment ready to respond, as well as to report all fires to the local fire brigade or FSUFPA.

ALSO READ: Gift of the Givers takes fodder to fire-stricken NC farmers

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