While farmers and emergency services are still counting the cost of an 18-day fire that raged in the Tsitsikamma area last month, firefighters are out in force once again, battling runaway blazes in the Southern Cape.
Last month, about 5 000 hectares of land in the Garden Route National Park was damaged by a fire that started on a private farm at The Crags.
Investigations into the cause of that fire are still taking place as emergency crews are again out in force, fighting a number of fires, stretching from Oudtshoorn to Tsitsikamma.
Southern Cape Fire Protection Association (SCFPA) eastern regions manager Dirk Smit said fires were spreading as far inland as the Langkloof and Baviaanskloof.
“We are battling at least halfa-dozen fires spread across our service area, and we have received requests for assistance from outside our area as well.
“Our resources are spread thin, but we are helping where we can and will continue to monitor the situation as it develops,” Smit said.
Damage assessments are still being undertaken following the 18-day national park fire, the cost of which is estimated at several million rands.
The SCFPA said it was waiting for finalised reports from farms neighbouring the park, but initial assessments showed firefighting efforts cost in the region of R3.6-million.
“The ignition of the fire is still under investigation, but it seems there were negligent actions either from land owners or contractors on their property,” the SCFPA said
Between 80 and 120 people were deployed per 12-hour shift for the 18 days the fire lasted, and Smit said overtime figures still needed to be factored into the final budget.
“This fire lasted for 18 days at approximately R200 000 per day.
“This includes rations for the firefighters, Working on Fire air and ground support from a number of provinces, various fire-fighting crews, an SANDF helicopter and private helicopters,” Smit said.
SANparks spokeswoman Nandi Mgwadlamba said rehabilitation projects were set to start in the damaged areas as soon as reports had been finalised. “Our scientists are of the view that fire can be a natural restoration mechanism to enable the rejuvenation of the veld,” Mgwadlamba said.
A final figure still needed to be determined, but reports thus far indicated that about 5 000 hectare had been damaged or destroyed, she said.
“The fire started on private property and spread to the Garden Route National Park,” Mgwadlamba said.
“We are extremely grateful for all those who helped to fight the fire.
“So much more damage could have been caused if it was not for their efforts.”
Officials were still monitoring the region, keeping an eye out for possible “red days” on which weather conditions increased the risk of runaway fires.
“SANparks is part of a fire management unit along with landowners in the area.
“Through this forum fire prevention measures are undertaken, including fire breaks, security and emergency procedures.
“All landowners are encouraged to join the fire management unit closest to them to assist with controlled burns and emergencies.
“We also work closely with district municipalities and the teams at SCFPA.”
Mgwadlamba said landowners should keep an eye out for invasive alien plant species, as they posed an increased risk.
This story first appeared in The Herald