20 die in raging weekend fires

Mhlaba Memela

Mhlaba Memela

More than 20 people died and 300 families were left homeless when runaway fires engulfed a number of areas in northern KwaZulu-Natal at the weekend.

Firefighters in many parts of the province struggled to put out the fires, which were fanned by a wind travelling at 90km/h.

The fire engulfed parts of KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Swaziland, razing timber plantations and killing livestock. Surviving livestock was without fodder.

The runaway fires reportedly stretched from Utrecht, Vryheid, Dumbe-Paulpietersburg, Piet Retief, Wakkerstroom, Inkandla and Winterton, to Melmoth.

MEC for agriculture and environmental affairs Mtholephi Mthimkhulu said his department had started distributing compensation claims forms to local and district municipalities to be given to communal farmers.

He also said local farmers' associations would do likewise with commercial farmers.

"I'm in constant contact with my colleagues Meshack Hadebe, the MEC for social welfare and population development, and Mike Mabuyakhulu, the MEC for local government, housing and traditional affairs, to assist the affected people," Mthimkhulu said.

He said officials of three departments had been tasked with coordinating a joint humanitarian assistance response to the calamity, especially in Dumbe.

Residents of Madadeni in Newcastle also suffered and took it upon themselves to try and fix damaged houses even as strong winds razed many more homes.

Police spokesman Vincent Mdunge said it was not yet known how the fires started.