It is again that time of the year when we have to be vigilant against occurrences or against being a source of wildfires. We all know by now how wildfires can be devastating both to grazing, people and animals.
Last year alone, some farmers lost significant number of animals due to wildfires and most had to treat their animals with burning wounds. During a fire outbreak it is a sorry sight watching animals running away from fires and trying to seek shelter.
Apart from losing forage and grazing, wildfires destroy infrastructure and properties with resultant resources being channeled to rectify such situations, which can be economically devastating to farmers and other stakeholders.
What some of us don’t realize is that our behavior can be a source of wildfire.
Those travelling and throwing bottles away along the road are contributors to the burning fields, animals and property damages. That weekend “braai” where you enjoyed eating barbecue with your friends and family might be the cause of wildfires if you forgot to put the fire out.
Coal and wood production are also direct causes of wildfires if not controlled effectively. Thus, although lightning fire causes significant cases of wildfires, it accounts for a small percentage of all fires and the majority of fires are ignited by people, either deliberately or accidentally.
Why is this season so prone to wildfires?
One might ask, but the reason is simply because the fields are dry from cold winter days and nights and heavy winds tend to blow regularly. Therefore, because the grass and trees are dry, it is very easy to catch fire.
Farmers have to be aware that during outbreak of wildfires, the intensity increases during daytime hours. Burning rates of smoldering logs are up to five times greater during the day due to lower humidity, increased temperatures, and of course increased wind speeds.
Sunlight warms the ground during the day which creates air currents that travel uphill. At night the land cools, creating air currents that travel downhill. Wildfires are ignited by these winds and usually follow the air currents over hills.
Thus, the onus is on us to make sure we don’t do anything that will cause the break-out of any wildfires anywhere in the country. Apart from refraining from being a cause of wildfires, one must also be ready to defend and rescue your properties and livestock when wildfires break out. These fires travel very fast and can travel sometimes over roads and rivers depending on the plantations and the speed and the direction of wind.
Strategies of wildfire prevention, detection, and suppression have varied over the years. One of the more controversial mechanisms that are used is controlled burning: permitting or even setting smaller fires to minimize the amount of flammable material available for a potential wildfire. Like the name, controlled-fire must be ignited by people experienced to control and guide such fires; otherwise they will cause undesirable damage if it gets out of control too.
Another effective method of controlling wildfires is creating firebreaks especially along fences and other infrastructures. Most farmers have created road tracts along their fences which in return also act as firebreaks. It is also important to keep enough water tanks (even from the rain water) on your farm/village to be of assistance in controlling wild fires.
For animals that were affected by wildfire burns, here are some few tips to help treat them:
Spray affected animals with cold water all over the body as soon as it was burned
Put a mild soap or antiseptic such as Betadine, Dettol ® or Savlon® diluted in water and wash the wounds thoroughly
Put on a wound dressing/salve or even to speed up healing and prevent or kill infection
If the eyes are affected, you can wash the eyes using a soft cloth with water and apply eye ointment twice a day until its improved or healed.
In some animals with severe burns, you can also inject an antibiotic to prevent infection. You can also inject multivitamins and multi-minerals to hasten their recovery
But for the worse cases, it is better to consult a veterinarian and it is more merciful to sacrifice worse cases or those untreatable ones.
Finally, it is up to both the farmers’ and community members to be cautious and take all necessary measures to prevent wild fires. They also have to have measures in place that allow them to respond quickly and effectively to any fire emergency. The control and prevention of wildfires is a combined effort and thus everyone’s responsibility. Let’s protect ourselves and animals from the devastating effects of wildfires.