Overberg grain farmers face huge potential economic losses should a wildfire pass through their farm before their grain is harvested. Fires on grainlands burn notoriously quickly and, given the way they burn, they can create several lines that can trap those fighting the fire. 

According to goFPA Manager, Louise Wessels, this has happened in the past. “Wildfires in grainlands are very dangerous. And given the Overberg’s focus on grain farming, we need to be extra vigilant here.”

2020 in particular will be more risky than previous years. Good winter rainfall has resulted in what is likely to be record harvests. However, that means that combine harvesters and other machinery will be working harder than usual, increasing the likelihood of fire, and therefore also the risk of damage and loss.

Wessels says that training is essential for farmers, farmworkers, staff, temporary staff, and subcontractors. “As is the Overberg way, farmers drop everything to help their neighbours and peers when a wildfire threatens. That’s why we advise that all farmers, not only grain farmers, learn how to fight a fire in grain fields.”

 

The goFPA team has therefore made a call to Overberg grain farmers and their teams to be EXTRA vigilant this year. We’ve compiled a checklist of support activities to reduce risks before and during your harvest.

TIP 1: CHECK YOUR FIRE UNITS

Mark your water points with signage so that we can easily see them.Have your fire units (bakkie sakkies) been serviced? Have you tested them, and are they in good working order? Check these now, prior to harvest. (We know you are responsible farmers, and this is “old news” – so we’re just checking.)

TIP 2: DRAW A MAP

Draw a map of your farm, indicating water sources, entrance gates, building locations, escape routes, alternative roads etc. Keep a copy in your bakkie (to provide to the Incident Commander at a fire).

TIP 3: COULD YOUR MACHINES START A WILDFIRE?

Check your combine harvester and other machines regularly for anything that could spark a fire. Regularly maintain your combine – check for overheating. Maintain the electrical system. Remove dried plant material and rocks from the machine whenever possible (check the engine too). And don’t park it close to flammables, especially when it’s still hot.

TIP 4: HAVE YOU TRAINED YOUR TEAM?

Do all your team members, including temporary staff, know how to react should a wildfire start? Train your staff to react quickly and efficiently – providing info on what they must do immediately if a fire starts.

TIP 5: DO YOU HAVE FIRE-FIGHTING EQUIPMENT ON/NEAR THE HARVESTERS AND MOWERS?

It is vitally important that fires in grain fields be put out extremely quickly. Having a bakkie sakkie following the harvester and/or having fire beaters at hand when the fire starts, can be the difference between stopping a tiny fire or battling a huge blaze.

TIP 6: HAVE YOU SAVED THE PHONE NUMBERS?

Farmers and staff should save the relevant phone numbers in their emergency contacts (or somewhere they can easily find the numbers). First you need to call the Fire Department (Overberg: 028 425 1690; Overstrand: 028 312 2400). Then your neighbours and FMU leader. Then please call the goFPA: 063 690 7899.

And remember: Not all our Overberg valleys have cellphone reception. So where needed, ensure you have two-way radios with you, to call on the emergency channel when in need.

TIP 7: CAN YOU ‘DROP A PIN’?

Click here to learn how to drop a pin. This is a quick and effective way to inform your neighbours, fire-fighting teams and the goFPA where the fire is. Remember: The sooner you report a wildfire, the quicker teams can assist you. The Fire Services do not mind turning around should the fire be contained before their arrival.

TIP 8: CAN YOU GIVE DIRECTIONS TO YOUR FARM?

In normal circumstances, this is easy. But during a wildfire threatening your house and livelihood, it’s not so simple. Save directions to your farm next to your landline, or on your cellphone (where you can easily access it), so that you can provide clear directions to fire-fighting teams.

It’s burning in my grainlands – what now?

Implement the tried and tested wildfire defence strategy: LCES (pronounced Laces).

L: Lookouts

(Have a lookout watching the fire move. This person communicates the fire’s movements clearly. Fire in grainlands moves fast, so make sure your lookout is safe.)

C: COMMUNICATION 

(Ensure all players are communicating clearly and calmly with each other, with the Incident Commander ultimately responsible for all calls.)

E: EXIT ROUTES

(Grain fires can burn in several lines at the same time, trapping fire-fighters. So be aware of 2 escape routes at all times.)

S: SAFETY ZONES

(Establish your safety zone, where all partners can retreat to during a fire. Ideally this should be ‘behind’ the grain fire, in an area that has already burned.)

Adopt LCES and apply them on the ground.

 

FINAL TIP: Because grain fires burn so fast, approach them from behind (in the burnt area). Beware of being caught in front of a grain fire or driving through one.

For more info, please contact Louise and the goFPA team: 063 690 7899; or email: manager@overbergfpa.co.za.