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Veld (or Wild) Fire is an extremely powerful and destructive phenomenon which occurs with significant frequency and intensity on many continents and in many countries.

Left unchecked, these wildfires can cause widespread destruction and damage affecting economic sustainability and productivity for entire regions or peoples. Southern Africa is no exception in this regard and the responsibility for safety and management of this phenomenon rests with every individual living or working in and traversing areas prone to wild fires.

If the previous season and current trends in weather patterns prevail, the forthcoming fire season promises to be very challenging.

The four primary components of managing this threat are:


1. Awareness

It is estimated that 90% of “unwanted” fires are caused by human intervention. Often this occurs where human settlement interfaces with natural vegetation as is the case with a significant number of hospitality sites located in the bushveld and Lowveld areas.

The following can assist:
• Know where the danger areas are;
• Know when the danger seasons and times exist;
• Understand the conditions which are conducive to fire inception and spread;
• Be aware of what is going on around you and in your region;
• Educate your staff on fire awareness, the causes and prevention;
• Educate your guests and visitors of the phenomenon and how they can assist in prevention;

2. Prevention

Always better than cure, prevention and control are the secondary steps in wild fire management and follow directly on from awareness. Education and the establishment of management systems may be necessary to achieve the desired outcome under this aspect.

The following are advised:
• Provide educational materials for staff and visitors
• Don’t allow unsafe refuse fires, disposal of cigarettes, unattended fires or children access to matches
• Enforce fire, smoking and cooking controls whenever required.
• Ensure all open fires, when allowed, are extinguished fully after use.
• Clean all chimneys on a regular basis and check that the flues, cowls etc… are working correctly
• Dispose of hot ashes or coals in a safe place where no combustible materials can ignite.
• Keep an area around dwellings clear of combustible material, ie. fire wood, kindling and garbage.

3. Preparedness

Whilst proper prevention techniques will significantly reduce the likelihood of spreading wild fires, we need to accept that, despite our every effort, we will never be able to control natural forces to the extent we may wish to.

It is therefore, equally necessary to be prepared for the inevitable in this regard.
• Comply with the provisions of the Veld and Forest Fire Act.
• Create and maintain Fire Breaks.
• Join or form a local Fire Prevention Association in your area.
• Replace dense flammable plants with fire resistant plants.
• Replace invasive alien plants and replace these with indigenous species
(see here for ideas on firescaping your garden)
• Trim grasses up to 30m of dwellings
• Remove dead plants, trees and shrubs, reducing excess leaves, plant parts, and low hanging branches.
• Create fire safe zones with stone walls, patio’s, swimming pools, decks and road ways
• Keep plants green during the dry season by supplementary irrigation.
• Stack fire wood and other inflammable at least 10m away from buildings.
• Provide sufficient fire extinguishing equipment
• Ensure all Fire Fighting equipment is regularly checked, serviced and in working order
• Form a fire response team and ensure workers are fully and regularly trained and equipped
• Hold regular training drills for fire response and evacuation of guests

Prediction of fi res will assist with being prepared. An effective early warning system can be sourced from a variety of national services dealing with this.

4. Response

All fi res start small. Detection at the earliest possible stage is critical to any response efforts
and is therefore also regarded as being part of preparedness. Any response must be made as quickly as possible after detection and should be a well planned, co-ordinated and practiced exercise. A well co-ordinated response would include:
• The dedicated fi re management team be alerted immediately with appropriate alarm systems
• Staff and guests to be alerted and marshalled to a safe assembly or evacuation point.
• A head count should be made and reconciled with visitors and staff records.
• Evacuation vehicles on standby in a separate safe area to evacuate guests if necessary.
• Rapid deployment of fi re fi ghting resources within the structure of preplanned Emergency Procedures.
• Communications to the local FPA and / or Fire Services.
• Thatch roofs, buildings and the vegetation in surrounding areas should be drenched.
• Emergency medical resources should be placed on stand by.
• Progress of fi re fi ghting endeavours to be monitored and communicated via a radio system.
• Careful watch should be directed on the fi re out fl anking fi re fi ghters or fresh fire fronts being created.
• Suppressed fires should be observed for re-ignition.

Finally, the threat is not limited entirely to flames. Radiant heat, dehydration and asphyxiation are also real threats to safety and must be considered. Responding to fires is potentially very dangerous and only trained personnel should become involved.

For more information on fire prevention,
contact your local FPA as listed below:

Lowveld and Escarpment Fire Protection
Association (LEFPA).

Tel : 083 310 7252
www.lefpa.co.za
(Covers basically the Ehlanzeni District (from
Orpen Gate in the north to Badplaas in the South,
Komatipoort in the east and N4 Toll Gate at
Machadodorp in the west)

Platorand Area Fire Protection Association
(PAFPA).

Tel: 071 346 9687
www.pafpa.org
(Covers Machadodorp to Wonderfontein & Belfast
to west of Lydenburg)


Umpuluzi Fire Protection Association
(UFPA).
(Covers south of Badplaas, Carolina, Warburton
and Lothair

 

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