Communities urged to gear up for veld fire season

Mazwi residents on the outskirts of Bulawayo have been urged to begin preparing fire guards as the veld fire season approaches. 

This call was made during a National Fire Week launch Indaba held in Mazwi village hosted by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) under the theme, ‘Prevent veld fires-Protect the environment and livelihoods’. 

Speaking during the meeting, EMA Planning and Monitoring Officer, Oppah Ruzawe emphasised the importance of educating communities to prevent wildfires before the season begins. 

“This year, the fire season is expected to begin on 31 July to 30 November. We educate communities not to start veld fires. This is the time to educate and campaign about wildfires before the season starts. It is everyone’s right to get environmental information. We have realised that wildfires disturb the economy of a country. Some of us are farmers, but we will realise that we won’t be getting anything because our fields are burnt, even our livestock may be burnt and there will be food shortages. We should preserve our communities and prevent wildfires as they destroy a lot,” she said. 

Given Zimbabwe’s savanna ecosystem, which is prone to veld fires due to abundant grass fuel, Ruzawe encouraged residents to cut grass either for sale or for roofing purposes. 

“Under the law, if a fire starts next door, everyone is required to go and assist in putting off the fire, no one should be found at home saying they are not responsible for starting the fire if we don’t assist, the fire will spread and even affect those who did not start the fire. It is also a crime to have a fire in the community without anyone trying to put it off,” she said. 

Looking ahead to the 2024 fire season, Ruzawe urged communities to aim for zero incidents of wildfires.  

“In 2023, an area of about 858 361.9 hectares was burnt down by veld fires, the satellites picked up all fires happening across the country and we also conducted assessments. 3 717 veld fires were also recorded countrywide, this is a huge number and as an agency, we are saying by next year we will ensure that we record zero fires,” she said. 

Senior Parks Warden from Bulawayo City Council (BCC) Mthabisi Moyo encouraged residents to create fireguards to protect their properties.

“Anyone with his/property be it a farm, household or peri-urban home under the Bulawayo City Council has a responsibility to create far guards during this dry season to prevent veld fires from destroying our property, farms, livestock,” he said. 

 “For anyone who doesn’t put a fire guard, the penalty is US$51.29 while the fine for starting a veld fire is US$1 035.94. Most of the villagers in this area are in the peri-urban and we are farmers, so let’s preserve the land that we have and prepare the fireguards on time.” 

Bulawayo District Conservator from Forestry Commission, Bekithemba Ngwenya added that the fire guard should be at least nine meters wide.

“This is the time to raise awareness and educate each other about the season we are approaching of veld fires. Fires will break out due to different reasons, in some instances it will be our fault but, in some cases, it will be beyond us as it will be natural fires. Fires are part of us, but we need to be wise in dealing with them so that they don’t disturb our households, grazing areas, wild animals, our land and everything we value and need. If we approach this season, it is important to have fireguards around our properties so that the fire doesn’t spread,” he said. 

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