By Elizabeth Sitotombe

THE veld fire season is upon us and is posing serious challenges to the environment as well as the livelihood of many communities.

The fire season runs from July 31 to October 31.

Veld fires are bush fires, both within and outside urban areas, that have the potential to spread out of control. 

Most wildfires are started by people, compared to the few started by natural occurrences such as lightning. 

Activities, such as land clearing, hunting, children playing with matches, reckless disposal of cigarette butts, deliberate torching of velds by illegal gold panners as well as by those hunting for mice and other small rodents are some of the documented human-induced veld fire causes. 

Owing to the heavy rains received in 2020, there is high biomass, even in areas that are known to have low vegetation, and that has left the country highly exposed to veld fires during this fire season.

According to statistics released by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), the nation has recorded 968 fire incidences since the start of the 2021 fire season, which destroyed over 

250 000ha of forest and grassland. This is a 43 percent increase compared to the same period in 2020, where 175 000ha were destroyed by 320 veld fires.

Investigations into a road traffic accident that occurred two weeks ago in Mashonaland Central which killed two people, a father and son, showed that the accident was caused by poor visibility as a result of a fire burning on both sides of the road.

EMA has implored motorists to refrain from throwing cigarette stubs through their windows to avoid veld fires along roads. 

Lives continue to be lost despite awareness campaigns by various stakeholders.

This week, at St Michaels Primary School in Hurungwe District, Mashonaland West, two children aged five and six were killed in an incident that occurred at the school.

The fire also destroyed teachers’ houses, including household goods, a motor bike, five tonnes of maize and 50 chickens. 

In Manicaland Province, 54 fire incidences occurred, destroying 

8 495,67ha of land as compared to 2020 when the province recorded 23 fires which destroyed 8 156,72ha of land. 

In a statement, EMA education and publicity manager Amkela Sidange said this season required extra caution. 

“The nation is reminded that we are in a very unique and dry season; very unique in the sense that there is a lot of biomass thus putting the country at high risk to veld fires. This leaves us with no option but to remain vigilant when handling fires during the dry season,” said Sidange. 

In line with the aspirations of the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1) the country seeks to reduce areas burnt by veld fires by 25 percent. 

This year’s veld fire season theme is: ‘Veld fires and food security: Protect the harvest’. 

To date 4 863 orders have been served countrywide for fire guard construction. 

Standard fireguards must be nine metres wide on either side of fences to be effective against fires.

During the fire season, no-one is allowed to start fires outside homes unless a 14-day notice is given to EMA, ZRP and neighbours.

According to Sidanke: “The agency will not hesitate to prosecute anyone found violating the law.”

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