Church off the hook after burning bush costs forestry industry R23 million

The court dismissed MTO Forestry’s claims that the church was slow off the mark in fighting the blaze. File photo. Image by: Gallo Images/Thinkstock
A church has fended off a R23-million damages claim after a fire that started on its property destroyed 1‚300ha of plantation in the Eastern Cape.

MTO Forestry’s appeal against the finding of the High Court in Cape Town failed on Monday in the Supreme Court of Appeal.

The company‚ whose Witelsbos plantation near Humansdorp burnt for a week in October 2005‚ sued the Moravian Church‚ which owns the neighbouring land where the fire started.

Judge Lorimer Leach said the fire raged out of control because of a strong wind.

He dismissed MTO Forestry’s claims that the church was slow off the mark in fighting the blaze‚ that it did not have adequate firefighting facilities and that a “jungle” of alien black wattle and acacia on its land had fuelled the blaze.

In his judgment‚ delivered on behalf of a bench of five judges‚ Leach said the prospect of a plantation fire was “a nightmare” for MTO Forestry. It had watchtowers which were manned around the clock‚ and it was a worker on one of these who raised the alarm about the 2005 fire.

“The fire became so fierce and powerful that it easily jumped the firebreak and set alight the plantation‚” said Leach.

The area it destroyed was the size of 2‚000 football fields.

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