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24 October 2011

Veld fires the land owner's responsibility

SOUTHERN CAPE NEWS - "As property owners we are EACH held individually responsible should a fire start from our property, or run through it, causing damage to neighbours. Noncompliance with the law leaves us at risk: standard fire insurance will probably not provide cover should we be in breach of the Act," said Pierre Villain, vice chairman of the Great Brak Heights Rate Payers Association.

Many will remember the veld fire that devastated the Great Brak village area in November 2007. In many instances it was a very close call; many property owners had to evacuate their homes to escape the smoke and heat.

Great Brak is a village surrounded by a mixture of natural bush, farm land, and pine plantations.

Great Brak Heights south and north is more particularly made up of 75 properties; more than half of these not developed, vacant and left un-attended. The area is adjacent to very large natural or farmed areas, along the upper reaches of Voorbrug road towards George, as far as the water tower, along High Roads North and South as well as along Stasiekop Road. It is naturally linked to the Western Heights along Wolvedans Dam Road and Botha Street on the opposite side of Tannery's Kloof.

The community generally lacks the infrastructure to appropriately maintain both private and communal land. In many areas invasive plant species not only relentlessly suck our precious water, but also provide fuel for wild fires in the dry summer season.

Great Brak Heights Rate Payers Association has decided to take the initiative, and on behalf of its members and of the wider village community, is in the process of forming a Fire Management Unit (FMU).

Their aim is to ensure that their community and members comply with the National Veld and Forest according Act 101 of 1998.

Mossel Bay Municipality, Cape Nature, Sanparks, MTO and various other role players with the commercial forestry and agricultural sectors are members of the Southern Cape Fire Protection Agency (SCFPA) and represented on its Executive Committee.

"SCFPA will assist us to comply by creation of a FMU, of which 37 FMU's exist in Southern Cape - closest ones being Friemersheim and Mossel Bay."

"As a whole, we will pool our resources and create the infrastructure to set up, within a Fire Management Unit (FMU), to manage our fire risk more effectively."

SCFPA specialists will:
Facilitate the establishment of Great Brak River Fire Management Unit(s), according to the fire risk in our area, design the fire prevention and firefighting plan, considering the area as a whole.

They will set up the appropriate firebreaks in a professional manner to prevent fire risk, will submit the application to the Minister to be granted exemptions for individual firebreaks on all cadastral boundaries of the properties whose owners are members of the FMU.

Non members of FMU will individually need to create firebreaks on their individual cadastral boundaries and have the necessary equipment as stipulated in the Act. SCFPA is responsible to identify areas of 'non-compliance' and issue warnings to land owners who do not comply with the law.

Great Brak Heights Rate Payers Association has resolved to work with SCFPA and give its members the benefit of professional implementation of fire prevention and fire fighting measures.

"We invite all Great Brak Heights land owners, land owners of properties bordering the Great Brak Heights community, as well as all interested land owners to join us. Together we will map the way forward to setting up, and maintaining a Fire Management Unit in our vulnerable area."

Please attend the public meeting that will be held on Saturday, 12 November at De Dekke Restaurant with specialists of SCFPA. Registration is at 09:00 and the meeting will start at 09:30.

For further information send an email to Pierre VILLAIN at 082 833 5063.

- Knysna/Plett Herald