Climatic changes triggered by global warming are becoming more extreme every season. Coupled with our own internal challenges of negligence, illegal rubbish dumping and burning, this makes the coming winter a somewhat fearful prospect. According to JC Serfontein, one of Husqvarna South Africa’s leading product specialists, the estimated losses caused by wildfires in 2021 were R3,5 billion – and that excludes the cost of fighting the fires and the tragic loss of life.
“Veld fires are a necessary part of Nature’s life cycle,” JC explains, “but if they are uncontrolled or occur too frequently, they destroy forests, farmlands and homes and even cause severe damage to our biological diversity.”
To limit fire damage this winter, JC offers a few tips to help landowners prepare to battle the blaze:
1. Follow the law
This is designed to keep us safe, so contact your local Fire Prevention Association (FPA) and find out what your legal obligations (the bare minimum) are with regard to fire prevention. Then collaborate with your neighbours and the FPA to develop coordinated fire control.
2. Develop a Fire Management Plan
Fire behaviour is influenced by three main factors: fuel, weather and topography. Take these into consideration when putting together a Fire Management Plan. Aim to have a written plan that takes into account everyone on your farm, and revisit the plan annually. Simple measures that can be incorporated into your plan to protect your property include:
- Keep grass short through grazing, slashing or mowing. A good season gives rise to a bulk of feed that if not managed, can become a cured, dry mass of fuel for fire.
- Know where you can move your animals to safety.
- Ensure access/exit points are clear of obstruction and accessible for emergency services and other support crews.
- Mark your water supply points with signage so that firefighters can get to this essential resource quickly and easily.
- Maintain a defendable space (at least 20m) around homes and valuable assets; move any woodpiles or other flammable materials away from buildings.
- Store petrol and fuel safely away from the house, preferably in a shed.
- Trim branches away from power lines.
3. Check your resources
- Ensure you are well-equipped; check and maintain all your firefighting equipment and keep it in an ‘always ready state’, e.g. during fire season, make sure all water tanks and pumps are serviced, filled, fuelled and easily hitched.
- Make sure that your team is trained to operate the necessary equipment and run regular fire drills to ensure they know what the plan is for every scenario.
4. Burn fire breaks
Fire breaks are the responsibility of all landowners and working together with neighbours is a great way to keep on top of the workload when planning and preparing your property. Effective fire breaks range from 2,5m to 15m wide depending on the surrounding vegetation. Not only are these passages void of fire fuel to starve a runaway fire, but they are also safe zones from which fires can be stopped completely.
5. Scenario planning
Fire is natural but it requires a spark. Take a bird’s eye view of your property and identify the areas where these ‘sparks’ may originate.
- Location: Does your property border a road where cigarettes may be tossed out of car windows or waiting taxi passengers light fires to keep warm? If so, pay careful attention to burning effective fire breaks on these borders; these might need to be wider and burnt more often than what the law requires.
- Equipment: Every season, an average of six combine harvesters (valued at about R6 million each) go up in smoke because the equipment is not cleaned. At night, even a gentle breeze can combust the chaff that has collected around the still hot parts. To prevent this, use your Husqvarna leaf blower to regularly clean out the residue.
6. Respect Nature
Maintain machinery and avoid using tractors, augers, welders and other electrical or petrol equipment on hot and windy days. If you do need to use machinery under such circumstances, ensure it is in good working order and it’s a good idea to carry fire suppression equipment such as a dry powder fire extinguisher or a spray pump filled with water.
JC explains how the new 578BTS leaf blower from Husqvarna has received numerous upgrades and special features, making it an essential tool in all fire control efforts, especially the burning of fire breaks:
“Husqvarna South Africa is serious about partnering with landowners in addressing the increased risk of fire damage. Contact any of our dealers for cost-effective solutions and unsurpassed product support,” JC concludes.