Rustenburg – For the past two weeks, devastating runaway fires have pushed several firefighters to their limits.
A serious fire broke out in Kgaswane Nature Reserve on Sunday 5 September. North West Parks Board acting chief conservation officer Pieter Nel confirmed that 60% of the park was burned during the fire.
The high intensity fire also caused damage to infrastructure, but thanks to the assistance of the Greater Rustenburg Fire Protection Association (GRFPA) members, Working on Fire (WOF) and volunteers, the damages were contained to the south side where there are fewer grazing areas. The north side should have sufficient food for the wildlife. Luckily, greenery has already started sprouting through the ashes.
The south side of the Magaliesberg mountains in the Vlakfontein and Maanhaarrand area caught fire on 16 September. Once again GRFPA members and WOF was called to action as the fire rapidly started spreading. They spent hours fighting the fire until it finally looked like they won.
The relief was short-lived as more fires popped up on 19 September. Residents posted alerts and photos of smoke on the northern slopes of the Magaliesberg Mountain range in the Rietfontein Kromrivier area…
Given the high fire danger index, erratic and steadily increasing wind gusts, mountainous terrain with limited access, except on foot, the fire continued to flare up despite the best efforts of landowners and volunteer firefighters and spread over to the south of the mountain.
The South African Weather Service (SAWS) issued an alert level 10 warning for veldfire conditions over many districts of the North West. WOF, and firefighting teams from Boskop and Highveld, Pilanesberg, Vaalkop, Rustenburg and Potchefstroom, the Rustenburg Fire Brigade Service, the GRFPA, North West Umbrella Fire Protection Association NWUFPA and REBEL FIRE ASSIST were at the ready and working hard to contain the fire.
The following night the winds in excess of 70km/h drove the fire over the Kromrivier tar road, towards a more populated farming area. Evacuation instructions were sent to some local residents. Some of the firefighting vehicles were surrounded by fire and could not move for half an hour. A huge community effort saved lives and brought the fire on the north side of the Kromrivier road under control.
But to the south, on the mountain, the fire raged on. The next morning, 22 September the chairperson of the NWUFPA declared a ‘code red’, meaning all local resources were exhausted and special emergency measures for assistance were activated.
Two water bombers, a spotter plane, ground crews and incident command personnel were brought in, and a command centre was set up on one of the affected farms. More than 50 drops of 1,500 litres each were dropped on the active fire line while ground crews continued to fight with water, beaters and blowers on foot and in 4x4 vehicles.
Those on the front line has described this as the worst fire in the Magalies Mountains they have ever seen.
Hundreds of hectares of veld and grazing have burnt, fences have been destroyed, sensitive and protected areas have been affected, and structural and wildlife losses have occurred. The exact toll of the fire has not yet been assessed as reports of damages are still coming in.
Thanks to the sterling efforts of so many organisations and people the fire was sufficiently contained on both sides of the mountain. Credit and thanks are pouring in from the community to the firefighters, the volunteers, the officials from the organisations and the incident commanders, the pilots, the co-ordinators and to the ‘behind the scenes’ members of the community who provided refreshments.
No human injuries have been reported but many farmers and landowners will be counting the costs of this devastating fires in the days to come, as they commence mopping up of isolated spots, assess their losses, and keep a sharp eye open as the risk of flare-ups is ever present. Smouldering vegetation in kloofs and inaccessible areas can, given strong wind gusts, reignite unburnt vegetation.
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