Massive toll in two provinces

Mary Papayya and Sakhile Mokoena

Mary Papayya and Sakhile Mokoena

Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal were yesterday still battling the destruction by veld fires which have left at least 20 people and thousands of livestock dead.

In Mpumalanga, the fires destroyed many hectares of timber plantation, burning down two sawmills, leaving herds of livestock charred and killing at least seven people.

Five firefighters were killed trying to put out the flames in Sabie.

Two holiday makers were burnt to death in Machadodorp at the weekend.

A number of firefighters have been hospitalised after smoke inhalation.

Yesterday, Local Government Minister Sydney Mufamadi and Water Affairs and Forestry Minister Lindiwe Hendricks visited the affected areas to assess damage caused by the fires.

Mufamadi said the possibility of declaring fire-ravaged parts of Mpumalanga disaster zones could not be ruled out.

Senior Kwazulu-Natal government leaders also yesterday conducted field visits to farming areas struck by runaway veld fires.

Thirteen people died as the blazing inferno gutted prime farming, grazing, agricultural and timber farmland in the northern parts of the region on Friday and Saturday.

The damage from the fires, fanned by heavy winds, is estimated at about R500million.

Scores of families have been left destitute and thousands of livestock killed.

Agriculture and Environmental Affairs MEC Mtholephi Mthimkulu, accompanied by his local government counterpart Mike Mabuyakhulu, visited two of the areas hardest hit by the disaster, Winterton and Paulpietersburg.

The visit was to assess the damage with a view to considering whether the region should be declared disaster areas.

The two departments, in conjunction with their social welfare colleagues, have also initiated a joint humanitarian assistance response to the devastation.

At one farm in KwaZulu-Natal, 680 sheep were burnt to death. Others found still alive were so badly burnt they had to be put down.

The Department of Agriculture helped both communal and commercial farmers with a government grant of R10000 to buy livestock fodder for their cattle.

Food parcels, tents and blankets have been distributed to the homeless left destitute by the runaway fires in the Winterton district.

Families also received assistance from the humanitarian NGO Gift of the Givers in Pietermaritzburg.

The latest outbreak of veld fires comes only weeks after raging veld fires destroyed hectares of farmland in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands, leaving more than 60 families destitute.

Yesterday, York Timber Organisation said substantial damage to timber plantations in Mpumalanga, Swaziland and KwaZulu-Natal would compound long-term soft wood shortages already facing South Africa.