Sunday, 21 July, 2024

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The past week proved to be a challenging time for firefighters and support services in the Lowveld.

Firefighters on high alert as wildfires swoop through Mpumalanga

The past week proved to be a challenging time for firefighters and support services in the Lowveld.

Strong winds continue to plague the province, which have the potential of igniting wildland fires that spread rapidly. Approximately 4 500 hectares have been destroyed by the 26 fires that were recorded over the weekend. 

The Working on Fire-Kishugu Joint Venture (WOF-Kishugu JV) in Mpumalanga has recorded 148 fires since the winter fire season started on 1 June.

On Monday alone the WOF-Kishugu JV recorded 20 fires with 157 firefighters assisting on the frontlines. 

According to André Scheepers of the Lowveld Escarpment Fire Protection Association (LEFPA), no serious injuries or deaths have been reported, but grasslands, farmlands, orchards, commercial plantations and farming equipment have been destroyed. He expects the conditions to stay the same for the rest of the week.

The WOF-Kishugu JV is actively engaged in fire-suppression operations across Mpumalanga, collaborating with various partners and stakeholders, with its extensive resources dispatched by the LEFPA, Mkhondo Fire Protection Association, Msukaligwa, and Chief Albert Luthuli Local Municipalities, among others. 

Fire in the White River area.

“The WOF-Kishugu JV remains on high alert and on standby to assist if and when needed,” says Amanda Mthembu, spokesperson for WOF-Kishugu JV. “It also urges the community to remain vigilant and practise fire safety as the winter fire season continues. Check your Fire Danger Index before starting any fires. Remove rubble, and debris and create a defensible space around your property.”

The Working on Fire Joint Venture in Mpumalanga is always ready to assist partners and stakeholders in fire-suppression operations. Its extensive ground resources include 26 teams, from the Working on Fire and Forestry Support Programme, strategically stationed throughout the province to respond swiftly to fire calls with a fleet provided by Kishugu Fleet Solutions. These wildland firefighters (623 in Mpumalanga), recruited from disadvantaged communities, are equipped with specialised firefighting skills at the Kishugu Training Academy. Kishugu Aviation’s fleet of aircraft provides crucial aerial firefighting support. 

No burning permits are currently being issued. Members of the public should report any wildland fires to your local authorities and Lefpa 0860 66 3473. 

WOF-Kishugu JV statistics from the weekend 

  • A total of 26 fires were recorded over the weekend. 
  • A total of 334 wildland firefighters from teams including Kaapsehoop, Ermelo, Mayflower, Injaka FSP, Diepdrift FSP, Dullstroom, and Lydenburg. 
  • Kishugu Aviation aircraft, contracted by partners, provided seven spotters, four AT-802s, and one helicopter in joint-organisational aerial fire suppression. 
  • The Fire Danger Index was orange on Saturday and yellow on Sunday, indicating high fire risks. 
  • The South African Weather Services forecast a cold front with cooler conditions but warned of continued strong winds and dry conditions.

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