#Vryheidfire believed to be arson

Could Tuesday’s catastrophic fire, which ravaged thousands of hectares of grazing land and plantations, also killing some livestock, have been started on purpose?

Steven Hibbert from the Fire Protection Agency (FPA) believes so.

Mr Hibbert made this deduction after visiting the site at Blood Rivers Poort where the fire is believed to have started.

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“There are three things that lead me to suspect that the fire was caused by arson. Firstly, the time the fire first began was at about 4am in the morning. At that time in the morning, there are no taxi’s or buses and there is no movement along that road. Secondly, the place that the fire started was not directly alongside the road or in an open area, where it may have been possible that someone was trying to keep warm, or that someone may have tossed a cigarette butt. Instead, the fire started in the veld. Finally, no rightful thinking farm owner would have put a match near grass in Tuesday’s wind.”

Some livestock was also lost during the blaze.

While Mr Hibbert is still tallying up the losses from the fire, he applauds the Vryheid community for working together in a calm and decisive manner to bring Tuesday’s fire under control.

“The community really came together as one. Fighting this fire was a massive community effort driven by farmers, Neighbourhood Watch, Working on Fire, and even the municipal fire brigade, which managed to save a house at Captain Buks. Meadow Meats sent its massive water bunker out, as well as Gerhard van Greuning and the municipality.

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“We had KwaZulu Private Ambulance and R&R Private Ambulance on standby. Pick n Pay, Spar and even private individuals sent donations of food, water, and cool-drinks for the people who were working to put the fire out, and members of the Neighbourhood Watch really worked tirelessly. RTI also came out in full force. I take my hat off to all of them, but especially to the farmers.

Grazing land and plantations have been destroyed as far as the eye can see.

“There was zero visibility where the fire was being fought, and a few guys had some close shaves where they were lucky to get out, but everybody stayed calm. It once again puts your trust in the community. When your takkie hits the tar in a bad way, this community will back you up!”

Mr Hibbert reported that, when the fire was at its peak it had turned into seven heads. The strong gusts of wind were driving the fire forward in seven different directions at once.

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The fire first started at 4am and was quickly put out. It started up again at about 11am, and was contained by 8pm. However, fire fighters only managed to put the fire out in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Mr Hibbert warned that Vryheid may not be out of the woods yet.

“We are expecting more wind and the fire danger index is still high. I urge the farmers in the area to make sure they have mopped up properly. Smouldering stumps must be put out. We are not out of danger yet,” he warned.

Estella Naicker

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