Farmers fend off fire


STILL SMOULDERING: A fire swept through farmland adjoining Port Alfred’s industrial area last weekend. Business owners and farmers had to tend to the fire themselves as equipment from the fire department proved inadequate Picture: CANDICE BRADFIELD

FARMERS had to battle a raging veld fire themselves with minimal support from the fire department last weekend.

Dawn Friderichs of Honey Dawn Bee Farm told TotT the fire started in the industrial area and spread to their farm which is 2km out of town. The fire started at about 5pm on Saturday and the last flames were put out at 6am.

“It was a nightmare,” said Friderichs.

The fire department was called by one of the farmers.

When the Friderichs saw it was going to be a bad fire, they drove past the fire station and saw that all the vehicles were out. However, none were tending to the fire.

When they went back at about 9pm, by which time the fire was “burning angrily”, all the vehicles were in again and the station was all shut up, Dawn said.

Her husband Charles went to the window and they saw someone peering through. They went to the door and asked why everything had been packed away. They were told to wait for senior fire fighter Andy Naute who arrived shortly after.

They said Naute told them that at 6pm he had asked for a fire engine to come from Port Elizabeth as well as backup from Grahamstown and Cacadu. However at that time the fire engine had not yet left Port Elizabeth.

When they asked about the fire engine at the station Naute responded that he may not take it “into the bush”. The fire engine in question was acquired three years ago for R1.4-million.

The Friderichs worked hard to put out the fire closest to their farm, together with four staff members who live on the farm. They called neighbouring farmer Dave Legg who used his spraying equipment to put out some of the flames. His brother Richard also lent a hand as well as fellow farmer Francois Vosloo who brought something to beat out the flames.

Dawn said eventually a full water tanker arrived on the farm to supply water, as well as a fire department Landcruiser with a sprayer which was not working. The driver did not get out, she said.

A fire engine arrived on the scene and then left again. While Charles was driving around to see how bad the fire was, he met the fire engine on the road and gestured for the driver to return to the farm.

“We asked the driver to put out some of the flames but he said it only carries water and does not spray,” said Dawn.

“Why have staff and such a big building if nothing is working?” she asked.

She suggested the fire department buy something that can be placed on the back of a vehicle to put out fires.

“Andy tried his best, but he was working single-handed,” she said.

Roger Coates, who owns Coates Construction, heard about the fire and went to check on his business in the industrial area at 11.30pm.

He said fire fighters tod him they were monitoring the fire but in the time that Coates was there did not get out of their vehicle. The fire had not yet reached his property.

By 5.30am the fire had just about reached the perimeter of his property, but Coates managed to keep it at bay by watering the ground just outside the fence.

Coert Herbst, chairman of the Eastern Border Farmers Association (EBFA), said they had similar problems when a fire broke out in a blue gum forest near Shaw Park two months ago.

He said the fire started at about 4.30pm which is when they called the fire department. By the time they arrived at 6.30pm, the farmers had most of the fire under control. Herbst said the two people who brought the fire engine did not know what they were doing and it was a tender which only carries 4000 litres and only works with a 19mm hose. It could not reach the flames that needed to be put out.

“I want to know why the truck cannot leave the road,” he said.

The EBFA has started their own fire protection association with the view to having their own fire fighting team and equipment. He said the fire department have agreed to help when they have the funds to do so.

According to municipal spokesman Cecil Mbolekwa, a “water tanker” was called out to assist the fire department when they were running short of water, the tanker was placed in a central area for purposes of refill.

“The big tanker in question was used to transport water in the event of veld fire as it is not suitable to go off-road. The said tanker is used for combating urban fires,” he said.

He said additional support was sourced from Cacadu District Municipality and Port Elizabeth.

“There was no problem with the pump but the problem was with the hoses and was sorted out by the senior fire fighter on duty,” he said.

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