by Richard Wadley
1. Determine the direction in which the wind is blowing.
2. Alert landowners and other residents downwind first (in the path of the oncoming fire).
3. Then alert all your neighbours that there is a fire on your property.
4. Determine whether or not the fire can definitely be brought under control by you and your staff alone.
If not, or you are unsure, GET HELP promptly! Contact:
• By radio – everyone on the system, using Emergency Channel 9
• The Conservancy’s free sms service: Richard Wadley on 083 609 1425 or Lyn Wadley on 083 609 1464. They will send out a free bulk sms to people in your area, requesting assistance at the fire, provided you give them the information requested below.
• Your local Fire Protection Association, if you are a member. And at a subscription of R1 per hectare per annum (maximum R1000), membership is a no-brainer: anyone who has seen a Working on Fire team in action on the ground will know that. You pay only their transport costs.
DON’T BE TOO PROUD TO CALL FOR HELP!
It is better to get assistance early, while the fire is still small enough to be brought under control easily.
5. Ensure that all the entrance gates are unlocked.
INFORMATION THAT WILL BE REQUIRED BY HELPERS
1. The precise location – farm or lodge name, owner/manager’s name – of the fire.
2. Where fire fighters should go – which road to take, which gate to enter.
3. A cell number or radio call sign people can use to obtain information and directions.
4. If possible, someone should be available at the number quoted above to answer phone / radio calls and answer questions.
5. Have information available about water-filling sites – tanks, cement reservoirs, dams etc.
6. If the fire becomes too big and / or dangerous for you and community fighters to manage, you may need to call in the FPA and Working on Fire – at your cost. This is another reason why it makes sense to call for neighbourhood assistance early.
INFORMATION ALL FARM OWNERS / MANAGERS MUST HAVE.
1. Contact phone numbers of all your neighbours.
2. Duplicate keys for your neighbours’ gates – and they should have your keys.
OTHER IMPORTANT ISSUES
1. Ensure your firefighting equipment is in working order – and that you have sufficient petrol to refuel the pump(s). If you don’t have a ‘bakkie-sakkie” unit, then at least invest in some backpack sprayers, a drip torch (for back-burning) and wire cutters (to cut the fence for access or release of animals if necessary).
2. Ensure that your firefighting equipment is stored together and is easily accessible.
3. Mark your equipment to make sure it can be returned after a fire.
5. If you have more than one entrance gate, number them in order to simplify directing assistance to the fire.
6. Make sure you have enough water to enable fire units to refill quickly while they are fighting your fire. An ordinary garden hosepipe is not good enough! The best is to have a large, self-refilling Jo-Jo tank (2000 litres or more) on a stand, with a large diameter hose fitted to it, at a place that is easily found. A full, clean reservoir or an earth dam is also good, as long as it is reasonably accessible. But these require fire units to have suction hoses – and many do not.
7. Remember: when the fire is ‘out’ or fully under control and everyone else has left, it remains your responsibility alone to make sure it stays out and does not re-ignite when the wind changes or increases. It is essential that you and your staff continue to patrol the edges of the burnt area for several hours, even overnight if necessary, putting out smouldering embers, knocking down and moving any burning trees, moving pieces of dung or piles of leaves well into the burnt area etc., until you are quite, quite sure there is no risk of re-ignition. No-one will be pleased about being called out again just because you neglected this essential duty – and they may not be prepared to come to your assistance a second time.
8. The law requires that you have cleared firebreaks around your boundary. These can never stop a fast-moving fire, but they – and other roads on the property – are very useful as lines along which to control a fire or from which to start a controlled back-burn. Keep your boundaries and other roads clear and scraped or cut.
9. There is a legitimate role for controlled fires in veld management; but uncontrolled fires can be hugely destructive and life-threatening events. As a landowner, manager or resident in the Waterberg, you have an obligation to your community to take reasonable precautions to prevent such fires; to educate your staff in fire prevention; to be adequately equipped to fight fires on your property; and to be prepared to assist your neighbours when asked to do so.