Humans cause most fires
18:12 (GMT+2), Thu , 07 August 2014
Tony Roberts

THE fire season in Zululand starts from mid-February to June, when the Eucalyptus (gum trees) are in flower and honey hunters move in to collect honey.

Many of these honey hunters travel to the region to capitalise on this resource and ‘make money by raiding bee hives’ and selling honey along the roadsides or back into the communities.

The Zululand Fire Protection Association (ZFPA ) strives to work with the roadside sellers and through the ‘Beewise’ project.

In association with SAFIRE Insurance, bee hive smokers and T-shirts are issued to these roadside sellers and a happy association exists with those registered with the project.

A problem arises, however, when wild fires are started by the ‘unknown honey gatherers’ as they use pieces of clothing or newspapers to smoke out the bees from the hives.

The bees become agitated and aggressive, attacking the raiders, who then leave behind the burning cloth as they flee and this can ultimately lead to wild fires.

In most cases, the fires are more nuisance than of a serious nature, but then again there are some really bad ones that can quickly get out of control, especially in an area of essentially indigenous bush between plantations.


For the rest of the season, suspected arson fires are the order of the day.

The mix is deliberate (suspected arson) around 55%, honey gatherers 35% and the other causes 10% made up of vehicles, trains and burning when a high fire danger period exists.

Not correctly mopping up of a fire after an event has happened is also a real cause for concern.

Grass and cane fires have been prevalent, but these do not constitute major losses except for rearranging the burning regime.

The reasons for the low area damaged bears testimony to the efficient manner in which ground fire fighters and aircraft work efficiently to bring fires under control to minimise damage.

Peat fires

Another problem which has reared its ugly head is peat fires.

Peat builds up as organic material such as leaves, grasses, fallen trees and root systems rots and compacts over decades or centuries.

When ignited, often by wild fire, lightning strikes or other means it smoulders and the fire cannot be detected for months, years or even centuries.

Peat fires spread by creeping through the underground layer, called ‘duff’.

Over 450 fire fighters are battling a 40 000 acre peat fire in North Carolina that will burn for months unless the dry region receives significant rain.

Started by a lightning strike, it is the largest wildfire in the United States.

Moscow is often covered with the smoke from one of the largest peat fires on earth which was caused by the draining of bogs and swamps in the early 1900s, creating thousands of acres of dried peat.

Zululand peat fires

Peat fires in Zululand are no different from the rest of the world in terms of their complexity and proximity to urbanisation.

They have been difficult to detect through camera surveillance and in most instances are reported by residents near the peat fire.

These peat fires are initiated through raiding of bees, burning of rubbish, vagrants and even spontaneous combustion.
Until now, peat fires have been incredibly difficult to eradicate.

Fighting these fires usually means pumping in thousands of litres of water, excavating large areas or simply ‘hoping for rain’.

Effective peat fire suppression starts with getting water below the surface layer, where it can penetrate and soak the organic material.

Reporting of peat fires in a neighbourhood is encouraged and greatly appreciated as it ensures that swift and effective control measures can be implemented.

The ZFPA requests all landowners, motorists, pedestrians, children and tourists alike to exercise extreme caution before they light up that match or lighter and to consider the consequences of their actions before doing so especially during this very harsh fire season.

Report any wild fire to Tony Roberts, Fire Protection Officer of the Zululand Fire Protection Association, on 035 5804220 (Detection Centre/OPS Room) or on mobile at 082 8217779.

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