Free State farmers struggling to bounce back from fires

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Farmers in the Free State say it will take time to recover from the devastating fires that ravaged farms in the province. Wildfires were exacerbated by strong winds over the weekend.

Affected areas include Brandfort, Verkeerdevlei, and Winburg, and fires spread as far as Clarens in the east of the province.

In Brandfort alone a total of 13 farmers were affected while more than 9500 hectares of land was burned.

Huge losses for farmers as grazing, crops, livestock, game, and infrastructure were destroyed in raging fires that started on Saturday afternoon. The fire sent the farming community into a frenzy to rescue livestock and save their crops.

National roads were also closed to avoid vehicle accidents. Since May 2023 a total of 3400 wildfires have been recorded in the province. A local farmer in Brandfort, Petri Bezuidenhout, says their losses run into millions of rand.

“This is emotional and actually gets the person angry. But one has to remain strong, move forward, and make a plan.” 

Another farmer De Klerk Fourie says there’s still no information about the cause of the fires but farmers wish for rain. 

“We have already received some donations from some people. We are relying on these and rain for us to live through this.” 

Farm workers are also fearing for their jobs. 

“The fires have really scared us because this is where work and with so much damage you don’t know if the farmer will cut the number of workers because he also does not know what to do.”

“This was scary. We were running after animals in that raging fire but we were also scared for our lives.” 

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in the province says it expects more fires as the veld fire season is still in full swing.

Head of the department Dr Takisi Masiteng says, “As the department of agriculture and rural development we are aware of the fires that have damaged more than 345 000 hectares of grazing land from 3400 incidents of fires since May.” 

The department says it will continue to monitor the situation.