During the dry winter months (and into early spring) the Eastern Free State suffers tremendously from run-away fires. 

 Every year thousands of hectares are lost with horrific loss of life; both humans and animals. Almost every single one of these fires are due to human negligence; a thoughtless moment of discarding a cigarette, a braai/barbeque fire left unattended or made in an unauthorised place or even driving through long grass on a hot day. All of these and many other ways exist to just spark off that major run-away fire.

     

The problem is that when it is very dry it also combines with the windy months and a fire can spread far faster than a human or most animals can run. By the time one realises the fire has escaped containment it is usually too late to stop it without calling on major resources. Imagine being busy at work with normal or urgent matters which cannot really wait and then having to drop it all at the call of a neighbour to assist with a fire. All hands have to be diverted to this emergency, tractors, trailers and water cars have to be arranged, fuelled and filled with water. Protective clothing has to be broken out and adorned. Food and water rations have to be allocated. Warm clothing have to be arranged for- at night, severe sweating leads to hypothermia. Torches and two-way radios have to be charged and ready to go. Extra batteries for torches and headlights must be taken with. Emergency medicine, plaster, snake-bite serum and leg splints must be taken because someone ALWAYS gets hurt, sometimes lethally so.

 

Often more than 1 day is spent fighting a fire, sometimes up to a week. It is utterly exhausting and tremendously emotional work. Imagine have a fire continuously breaking away with severe winds while everyone's physical strength depletes to drag water pipes over huge distances without it getting burnt, carrying 20kg+ water backpacks into the mountains - up and down for refills and the beaters with their heavy-handled, wet, mop-like swatters beating at fires in brushes. That kind of work saps your strength faster than it takes you to swear at a taxi swerving in front of you from the left side. And then the animals start getting hurt and you cannot stop it, you either cannot get them out of the way fast enough or the wind changes direction and catches everyone off guard. Sheep will gather in a fenced corner and burn to death, cows in labour will get caught and scream in agony. It is absolutely awful but you have to be there, else the fire spreads more. You do what you can but after a day of that .......

   

Often the perpetrators do not own up to their misdeeds, for various reasons. The point is that it is usually the innocents who have to foot the physical, emotional and monetary bill. These are usually larger than anticipated.

 

PLEASE be careful with a hot coal/spark or flame. A fire that broke containment extracts an unimaginable toll before it is tamed again.