Uncontrolled veld fires spread quickly during the dry winter months and cause major damage every year, which can be even less afforded in the current economic and social environment.

Fires also have a major negative financial impact on the agricultural sector every year, as it not only destroys houses and other structures, but also crops, grazing, livestock and many more.

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Sustainable agricultural production is threatened by various aspects, which is often beyond the control of a producer.

Liza de Beer, acting head of Agriculture at Old Mutual Insure, says that fires are a threat that can, however, be pro-actively managed, controlled and, in many cases, prevented.

“A fire is inherently hazardous and the owner of a farm where a fire is raging, should take heed of the serious obligation to ensure that neighbouring landowners do not incur damage as a result of the fire. It is, therefore, important to be prepared, and to pro-actively manage and reduce fire risks.”

Preventing and reducing fires before and during the fire season

  • Ensure that areas around spots where open fires can be present are kept clean of any flammable material, especially near rubble heaps/dumping sites. Always consider the impact of wind in the event of a fire.
  • Controlled fires should not be allowed when the conditions are unfavourable and present a high fire hazard.
  • Notify owners of adjoining land, the local fire protection association, and relevant authorities of your intention to prepare or maintain a firebreak by burning.
  • Make sure that you take all reasonable steps to ensure that all fires are completely extinguished before leaving it unattended, as this is a cause of many fires on farms.
  • Remove grass and trees that grow to close to buildings, trim branches hanging over roofs of buildings, and remove leaves and other material from building gutters.
  • Be mindful of dry flammable plant material around wooden structures and under wooden decks.
  • Watch out for fire risks at workers’ houses and where children play regularly.
  • Ensure that all electrical wiring is safe and avoid the overloading of electrical wall sockets.
  • Maintain machinery and equipment, as it can lead to veld fires if it is not kept in good working order.
  • Make provision for safe moving of livestock to areas on the farm with a lower fire hazard, should the unforeseen happen.
  • Maintain vehicles used to fight fires and keep other firefighting equipment on standby. Test pumps and water supply regularly, and inspect water tanks and pipes for leakages.
  • Ensure that water tanks are filled, accessible and ready for use.
  • Store fire beaters, protective clothing and other firefighting tools in one place with easy access, and ensure that family members and workers know where to find it.
  • Identify ‘red areas’ (where fires occur regularly and every season) and any fuel loads on your farm, and then manage and reduce these fire loads pro-actively.
  • Compile a list of emergency numbers and have it visible in strategic places inside your house, staff housing, workshops, sheds, etc.
  • Make use of early warning systems in your area, such as the daily fire danger index.
  • Take note of the prevailing weather conditions that could hold a high fire danger. This includes temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, and wind direction.
  • Use the benefits of radio broadcasts, social media, and SMS and communication channels of your local fire protection association, to receive timely news about fires in your area.
  • Open fires should not be left unattended, and braai and campfires must also be extinguished completely.
  • Restrict the use of farm machinery on days when the fire danger is high.
  • Be extra careful when using welding, cutting and grinding equipment and make sure that you comply with your local fire protection association rules/guidelines and any prohibition on using this equipment on high fire danger days.
  • Never permit smoking in or near stores, outbuildings or flammable material storage areas.
  • Inspect all wiring, electrical motors and appliances for exposed wires, broken insulation, indications of wear or rodent damage, proper grounding and installation on a regular basis.

Always refer to your policy contract for terms and conditions. This article is intended to only provide information and not any advice or legal advice.

What the law says

Every landowner or lessee of land must comply with the requirements of the National Veld and Forest Fire Act, 1998 (Act 101 of 1998), as amended. According to this Act, the word ‘owner’ also means the lessee or any other person who oversees the land. Landowners can be held legally liable for damage to the property of others or for death or injury as a result of a fire that spread from their land.

The focus must always be to manage and reduce veld fire risks pro-actively, and also to be prepared to combat fires that do occur.

Talk to us about the Old Mutual Insure Agriplus pro-active Fire Extinguishing cost cover, to prevent the spreading of a fire from your property to a third party, if such property is in danger as a result of a fire that spread from your land. – Old Mutual Insure

All products are underwritten by Old Mutual Insure, an Authorised Financial Services Provider (FSP 12).

Contact your broker or adviser, or visit our website www.ominsure.co.za for information on our agricultural product solutions and for the contact details of our sales office nearest to you.