Michele du Plessis
A remembrance service and breakfast, organised by Lowveld Escarpment Fire Protection Association (LEFPA), were held at Road Lodge, Nelspruit, on Sunday, July 30, to commemorate the lives lost during the 2017 Firestorm that spread over huge areas in Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Swaziland.
Andre Scheepers, manager at LEFPA, said it was a great opportunity to remember the fires of 2003, 2007 and 2008. “We are here to remember the lives lost, and the total devastation left by the fires.” “It was the worst firestorm in the history of South Africa. On July 7, the inferno started, and it seemed that the whole world was on fire. The massive economic impact will last for years still. Sawmills closed down, and R 4.8 billion damage was done. In Sabie, the plantations lost was re-established in two years time. But it is a bigger risk now with the heavy fuel loads. We need to prepare for a major catastrophe.” Pieter van der Merwe, Working on Fire (WoF) Operational Executive and a member of the 2007 ICS team, said.
Reverend Rodney Mathane, who conducted the remembrance service, said that he remembers the fire flying over the road, from the one plantation to the next. “I saw these huge balls of fire flying; it was the worst catastrophe that I have witnessed. You stand in the face of this fire with the utmost fear. Not everybody has the guts to put on a uniform and fight these fires. Blessed are the people who do this work.”
Khosi Mkhonto, key note speaker and former Executive Mayor of Ehlanzeni District Municipality of 2006 – 2011, said that so many people lost everything during these fires. “The first time I asked for an IDP document, I wanted to see if there is disaster management in this document. It was just an ordinary document. We needed to focus on our environment and fire. We need to educate our children about fire risk in our areas. Let us celebrate this fire season. Thank you for remembering those who were affected by the 2007 fires. Now, we are ready to fight fires.”
Present at the Remembrance breakfast were people – pilots, fire fighters, service men and women – who were part of the teams that fought the Firestorm of 2007.