Overberg, 21 November 2017: The Overberg (Overberg District Municipality and Overstrand Local Municipality) is preparing for a challenging fire season. Due to the dry conditions across many parts of the region, fire-fighting teams are on high alert. The fire season officially started in November.
As part of the Greater Overberg Fire Protection Association (goFPA’s) preparation for the fire season, six winter planning meetings were held across the Overberg district. These meetings focused on “lessons learnt” from the previous fire season, fire suppression strategies, aerial fire suppression limitations and challenges, firebreaks and the legal compliance of members.
According to the Overberg District Municipality’s Chief Fire Officer, Reinard Geldenhuys, 24,000 hectares of vegetation burnt in the Overberg as a result of wildfires during the past fire season. The previous fire season ended in April 2017.
“The weather up to December is not looking good for our next fire season,” he said. “In winter we had many fires that burnt out of control because of the drought. So we believe we must prepare for a very intense fire season.”
The goFPA is encouraging land users to ensure their suppression strategies for the upcoming fire season are in place. This includes identifying risks, mitigating these risks and developing an appropriate action plan should a wildfire threaten their properties. These plans should be flexible to allow for the conditions prevalent on the day.
For this fire season, the suppression strategy entails trying to put out the fire in the initial attack stage. However, if this is unsuccessful, teams will manage fires that do not threaten life and infrastructure, rather than using excessive water resources and financial cost to put out these fires. “We will of course work with landusers, to decide together, how to suppress each fire.”
Summary of discussions
The goFPA Manager, Louise Wessels, advised landusers to prepare themselves now. “Get your plans and insurance organised now, before you are affected by a wildfire.”
- Undertake your annual wildfire risk assessment, where you identify high risk areas to pre-determine the Fire Management Unit’s suppression responses.
- Individual land owners are responsible for boundary firebreaks as required by law, or to finalise firebreak agreements where mutually agreed breaks do not follow property boundaries. Firebreaks should be two and a half times the height of the highest vegetation – or a minimum of 5m. The goFPA promotes sharing of firebreaks that can make a difference in stopping a fire or provide an area where fires can be fought from.
- Get a firebreak agreement with your neighbours now.
- Meet with your insurance broker to see what you’re covered for: whether it be fires that start on your property, or fires that start elsewhere and burn onto your property.
- All members subscribe to the rules of the goFPA which has significant relevance for future insurance cover and claims. Members should ensure compliance to these prior to the next fire season. Check your legal compliance in terms of the National Veld & Forest Fire Act by completing our Rules Checklist.
- Ensure you and your teams have completed the necessary training and have access to the appropriate personal protective clothing (PPE).
Both Chief Fire Officers, Mr Geldenhuys and Mr Lester Smith encouraged landusers to contact the fire department immediately when a fire starts. “It is better to phone early and rather let resources en route stand down, than to phone too late.”
Nine additional vehicles have been deployed in the District. As part of their strategy, the Fire Services shall endeavour to deploy two officers to medium and large fires. This will enhance clear structured leadership in order to minimise risk and optimise deployment of resources. Incident Command System principles will be applied at all wildfires.
For more information on preparing for the fire season, visit: www.overbergfpa.co.za.