23 May 2005

South Africa: Alert Issued As Fire Season Draws Near

Pietermaritzburg — KwaZulu-Natal is bracing itself for a ferocious fire season this year because of dry conditions.

And the Working on Fire programme has issued a general fire warning to the country's dry winter provinces, which include the Free State and Eastern Cape.

"It is tinder dry out there," explains Ginge Hudson of the Working on Fire programme.

Hudson, who manages the KwaZulu-Natal/Free State/Eastern Cape cluster, said that due to heavy summer rains, there was an excessively high amount of green fuel, such as grass and weeds, which increase the risk of runaway blazes.

"Abandoned camp fires, burning rubbish, and landowners burning at the wrong time of day all raise the risks of runaway fires," he warned.

He said forested areas and communities living along bushveld were considered high fire-risk areas.

Landowners have been urged to take special precautions and only conduct controlled burning in the late afternoon once the wind dropped and conditions were cooler.

Runaway fires spread quicker at mid-morning than later in the day, Hudson warned.

The programme has two helicopters and two fixed wing spotter aircraft to supplement local aerial fire fighting efforts.

The programme has 40 firebases across South Africa, each of which has a 22-member fire fighting crew selected from formerly unemployed people who have been trained through the programme.

In KwaZulu-Natal, the programme has identified four 'hot spots' at Kwambonambi, Shafton, Greytown and iMbazwana.

Hudson said it was important for landowners to discuss their burning strategies with neighbours and inform fire wardens and fire control centres of their intention to burn.

Permission was needed from the authorities before any fire could be started, he explained. The firebreak season runs from June 1 to October 31 in all areas except the Zululand coast, which starts on 1 August.

Contact numbers for the latest weather conditions and fire risk areas are: REP The Working on Fire programme on tel (033) 330 7715

; or Ginge Hudson on cell 082 417 5760 REP The KZN Fire Protection Agency on tel (033) 330-8421

/22/23; or Simon 082 654 4943 REP Zululand's Fire Protection Service at Kwambonambi on tel (035) 580 4220

or Trevor 082 577 9337.

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