North West fire association blames non-compliance of Veld and Forest Fire Act for veld fires

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The North West Umbrella Fire Protection Association has lashed out at government and other stakeholders, including municipalities and landowners, for non-compliance with the Veld and Forest Fire Act.

This, after veld fires, ravaged thousands of hectares of farmland in the Ventersdorp and Potchefstroom area.

Association chairperson, Eric Thabo Stoch says the damage is estimated to be about R50 million with between 10 000 to 15 000 hectares of land devoured by the blaze.

Widespread veld fires over the past few days have caused massive damage across the North West. In Ventersdorp, an estimated 10 000 to 20 000 hectares of grazing and maize fields were destroyed.

The Province’s Umbrella Fire Protection Association says the situation could have been avoided if government institutions, who own land, and private land owners, complied with the Veld and Forest Fire Act.

The Act stipulates that they register with a fire protection association, make and maintain fire breaks, maintain fire-fighting equipment and have trained personnel on board.

The association’s Eric Thabo Stoch says: “I have said this in the past and I am going to say it now on air unless people do what they have to do people are going to die. I am going to repeat this most probably a few times, people are going to die and the reason for this is because of non compliance of government institutions and also non compliance of land owners. They are going to lead the loss of livelihoods and the loss of food security in our province.”

The association says should there be any further damage caused by the veld fires, including loss of life, they will hold government officials liable.

“The association has taken a decision to hold all government officials reliable in their personal capacity should there be any danger or loss of life due to non compliance in terms of the Act. We have tried to assist them to become compliant we offered to assist them to reach some form of compliance at short notice and we even offered to do fire breaks for these department using the volunteers and local community in this regard.”

One of the farmers, Gerhard Koen, who is affected, says while he managed to save part of his grazing but others have lost everything.

“It’s a couple of others who almost lost their houses as well, some nothing left. I know Johan Labuschgne, Piet Labuschagne they basically have nothing, a lot of their cattle and wild animals.”

The North West Umbrella Fire Association has put in place a programme where community members will be trained as community resilient officers in an effort to combat veld fires and help them to manage fires in their area.