Remembering the devastation of 2007

Michele du Plessis

Wild fires that spread through Mpumalanga started on July 27, 2007. Together with suffocating clouds of smoke that hung like a pall over Sabie, Graskop, Pilgrim’s Rest and Nelspruit, and the devastation that these fires caused, was terrible to behold.

Twenty-two people were killed; amongst them six fire fighters. Hundreds of animals were burned to death; livestock and wild animals. Komatiland Forests and York Timbers lost thousands of hectares of plantations, conservation areas, mills, farms and homes were lost or ruined. It will take the forestry industry at least 20 years to recover from the 2007 fires.

“I remember the devastation as if it were yesterday. We all had a very rough time fighting the wild fires that raged through Mpumalanga in July 2007. Seeing the fires in Knysna brought all of it back,” Andre Scheepers, manager of LEFPA (Lowveld Escarpment Fire Protection Association), said.

After the fires, a concerted effort was made to educate the public about fires, the dangers and sometimes irreparable damage caused by wild fires. In 2008, all the involved parties started a campaign to promote fire awareness amongst communities, local schools, residents, tourists and the national audiences.

LEFPA is a volunteer organisation with 494 members, comprising state land, forestry companies, agriculture, plots and conservation properties. LEFPA is the largest Fire Protection Association (FPA) is South Africa and deals with the detection, predicting, preventing, rehabilitation awareness, managing and extinguishing veld fires.

“There are safety precautions that must be adhered to when planning to burn fire-breaks or dry fuel loads. Use fire responsibly. Keep an eye on the FDI (Fire Danger Index) and warn your neighbours if you plan to burn fire-breaks. Use a written notice to inform neighbours of your intentions and insist on your neighbour’s presence. Many hands make light work and this keeps a fire from spreading.” Scheepers said.

As we are currently in the fire season, the Sabie Chamber of Commerce chairman, Gwilym Rees, urged the public to reduce the dry fuel loads on their properties as far as possible. “Those with empty plots are urged to cut the vegetation as short as possible and to remove that before burning. Please do not burn without adequate precautions in terms of controlling and extinguishing the fire if necessary. Do not burn during windy conditions. We are all aware of the devastation caused by the fire in Sabie in the past; we do not want that to ever happen again.” Captain Gwilym Rees said.

Photo Credit: Hennie Homann

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