The 1998 veld and forest fire act places the burden on landowners to control fires on their land, but landowners have access to a variety of resources when it comes to fighting fires. As fires can cause major disasters and cost millions of Rand annually, both local and national government are responsible for managing fires.
The fire act motivates that the best way to prevent and combat veld fires is through creating organisation at a local level. Coordination and cooperation is the name of the game, with landowners joining forces into Fire Protection Associations (FPAs) that have a common vision. However, in each area fire fighting services fall under the auspice of local municipalities.
The FPAs and the municipalities cooperate with each other, and link up with disaster management centres. Local government is important in the frontline against fire, as provincial and national funds earmarked for fighting fires have to be channelled through the municipalities. The municipalities are supposed to take into account the costs of fighting fires when they draw up budgets and integrated development plans (IDPs).
To access funds to properly fight fires in an area, the burden is on FPAs and other parties to be involved in the production of the IDP. Veldfire management strategies also have to tie in with the municipality's disaster management plan. As well as getting help from local government in fighting fires, in all the key areas of South Africa where veld fires have the potential to rage out of control there are Hot Shot crews, ready to step in and do battle with the flames.
A government initiative started in 2003, the Working on Fire programme has created the Hot Shot teams by training over 800 men and women around the country to safely fight fires. For a fee, the skills of these fire fighters can be called upon by landowners and Fire Protection Associations when veld fires start. The Working on Fire teams have access to sophisticated equipment, like fire-fighting helicopters, allowing people to benefit from the economies created by having a coordinated national network.
When not actively fighting fires, Working on Fire can help landowners prepare for fires. They can train existing staff in how best to fight fires, and check that all the right equipment is in place. They also burn firebreaks and carry out prescribed burns. Working on Fire has a cluster in the Mpumalanga/Limpopo lowveld, and for more information Andre Scheepers can be contacted on 083 310 7252 or 013 741 7340.