deadly swathe of fiery destruction

Canaan Mdletshe and Riot Hlatshwayo

Runaway veld fires burnt a number of people to death yesterday, including a firefighter whose fire engine was engulfed in flames.

And, during the chaos that left hundreds of people destitute in KwaZulu-Natal, the six-year-old daughter of Bhekumuzi Zuma, the chief at Nkandla, died after corrugated iron cut through her.

The raging infernos, which cut a swathe of destruction through the province, are said to have caused damage estimated at more than R1 billion.

In Mpuma- langa, the firefighter died when uncontrollable fires circled and engulfed her team's fire engine.

Fourteen of her colleagues were seriously injured and are in hospital with burn wounds.

The 44-year-old woman, who may not be identified before her family has been notified, was burnt beyond recognition.

She was employed by Sibambani Forest Contract and was among 16 firefighters called in to extinguish the fire at the plantation.

The areas of Ngodwana and Nelspruit continued to be engulfed in smoke as the fires spread yesterday.

In KwaZulu-Natal, fires swept across more than 10 areas in the province, but areas in the north were hardest hit and n early 60 people were hospitalised after being injured in the fires.

Mike Mabuyakhulu, political head of disaster management, confirmed the number of deaths. He said 636 households were affected.

"So far we have an official record of 59 people who have been injured. We have distributed tents, blankets and food parcels," he said.

Mabuyakhulu said they were still considering whether the affected areas should be declared disaster areas.

Yesterday, provincial premier Sbu Ndebele and some MECs visited different parts of the province to establish first-hand the extent of the damage and to ensure that necessary assistance is provided.

"As the provincial cabinet, we will meet today to discuss how we will be helping the affected families. But the immediate thing to do would be to provide them with food, shelter and rebuild their houses."

Meanwhile, nature struck another nasty blow in the Underberg on Sunday, when a much loved community doctor, Les Pitt, was killed as high winds caused a marquee to collapse onto spectators at an agricultural show.

The tight-knit community was still in shock yesterday.

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