It is the month of August, and farmers already have started reporting in June about wildfires which are devastating the grazing land as well as animals on their farms.
My friend Mbuere ua Mbuere’s farm in the Omambonde area between the Waterberg and Grootfontein area was a victim in these recent wildfires.
He shared his experience of horror with me, and according to him, the most devastating thing is battling and watching the uncontrollable beast of a fire ravaging his precious grazing land and animals.
Let us share his story and devastation. ..
It all started with someone north of Coblenz clearing the field for his camps. They wanted to burn down some deadwood.
Within seconds, the wind direction changed, and all their belongings got burned in a flash. Before they could realize it, the whole veld was smoke and dust, and the fire was singing through the dense savannah veld of Otjozondjupa before it spread further.
“It was truly a sorry sight watching animals running away from fires and trying to seek shelter, and sometimes running in circles, not knowing where to from there”, Mbuere lamented.
Although relatively few livestock and wildlife are directly killed or injured by fire, it does happen. Mbuere fortunately lost only one cow and two goats in the fire, and managed to treat a couple of the animals which sustained wounds.
The fire also destroyed part of the fences and water troughs in two camps.
It took combined efforts with farmworkers, family, friends as well as neighbours to control the fire. Most of the work was the battle to carry water to the affected areas to put the fire out.
Imagine pumping water from the dam onto a bakkie, then into containers and drums which people could use to throw on the water. Despite the risk of people inhaling the smoke or even getting burned, the team managed to successfully put the fire out after two virtually sleepless nights of combined efforts in both the communal and commercial areas.
“Fighting against nature takes a lot of effort and courage, and time is not always on your side. Sometimes, when you think you have the situation under control, the fire becomes bigger and stronger and more furious”, he noted.
For Mbuere, this was the second time fire ravaged his farm in seven years. The first time it was a minor fire, and they managed to control it in time without much damage.
But, this time around, the fire started at their neighbour’s farm and hence, by the time it was reported to him, the fire had already spread extensively.
The fear was that if the fire crossed over to the rest of the neighbouring farms, the damage would have been devastating, knowing there are serious game farms as well as many livestock.
For the animals which were affected by the wildfire burns, Mbuere had proper advice to help treat them.
The most important thing is to quickly spray affected animals with cold water all over the body as soon as possible to cool the animal down.
It is also important to wash the wounds with a mild soap or diluted antiseptic such as Betadine, Dettol ® or Savlon®.
Afterwards, you have to put wound salve on the wounds to aid in wound healing. This should be repeated for 3-5 days religiously.
They also gave antibiotics to some of the animals which were more severely affected, and gave metabolic boosters to all the affected animals to aid in their recovery process.
Mbuere said they were lucky that the injured animals are recovering well, but advised that with major burns, it is better to rather sacrifice the animals.
With this nasty experience, Mbuere is now advocating for farmers and community members to be vigilant and take all necessary precautions in preventing wildfires.
“I know it could have been worse, and I was fortunate to come out with relatively minor damage as compared to other farmers, and for that I’m thankful”, he noted.
He also blamed people who smoke and throw away burning cigarettes onto the ground, or people who camp and don’t make sure that their fires were put out.
He furthermore advised that people should not throw away glass bottles around the fields because if the temperature is too high, the glass might heat up and start a fire.
Fire outbreaks are common during the winter/autumn season, simply because the fields are dry from cold winter days and nights, and heavy winds tend to blow regularly.
Therefore, because the grasses and trees are dry, it is very easy to catch fire. This year, the situation might still get worse on some farms because of the very dry grass, thus fuelling uncontrollable wildfires.
Thick bush which had not been de-bushed for years and the dead debris combined with strong winds can also contribute to overwhelming fire outbreaks.
Thus, it is important that farmers put precautionary measures to act quickly in cases of fire outbreaks. They also have to have measures in place which allow them time to respond quickly and effectively to any fire emergency.
Mbuere intends to make sure that all road tracks around his camps are cleared so that fires do not spread, and he will create firebreaks, especially along fences and other infrastructure.
He also wants to install a tank of rainwater for emergency cases, and equip his farm with firefighting equipment such as long waterpipes which will aid in the fast control of fire outbreaks, instead of relying only on small containers and drums.
Although Mbuere is devastated about the aftermath of the fire on his farm, he is adamant that life goes on, and he is happy that no one was injured in the fire.
He felt strongly that the control and prevention of wildfires is a combined effort, and thus everyone’s responsibility.
“Let’s protect ourselves and our animals from the devastating effects of wildfires”, he continued.
Lesson from the fire: it’s dangerous, and it moves fast! It needs vigilance and the right tools, and all farmworkers need to be trained on how to use the various equipment.
The team must follow a team leader, and they should work coherently and watch each other.
Farmers should likewise invest in firefighting tools, and keep them ready at all times with enough standby fuel for cars and the firefighting engine.
The worst is not over.
The fire season is only starting now, but with the right mindset and the right team with good cooperation from neighbours, it can be overcome.
Mbuere said the rule of any fire is “don’t wait for the fire to come to your farm, fight the fire away from your farm, and that can only happen if you react fast and mobilise your team to go and help the neighbor, even if it is 10 farms away from your farm”.