KZN FPAs organising on an unprecedented scale
The wildfires that ravaged the forestry industry in KwaZulu-Natal in 2007 and 2008 served as a wake-up call. The mild 2009 fire season provided a window of opportunity for foresters to clean up the mess, learn from past mistakes and plan for the future. Now the stakeholders responsible for preventing veld and forest fires in KwaZulu-Natal are mobilising their resources and getting organised on an unprecedented scale ahead of the 2010 fire season.
Lucky Mchunu and Calvin Govindsamy keep watch
A high level Operations Committee has been set up to mobilise and align fire fighting forces across the province under the KwaZulu-Natal Umbrella Fire Protection Association based at Shafton in the midlands. The KZN UFPA co-ordinates the activities of 15 fire protection associations registered in the province. This includes new members in the Umzimkulu FPA, Hibiscus FPA, Idube FPA and Vryheid FPA.
All of the FPAs are represented on the Ops Com, and so are the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and Working on Fire. The aim is to align all the FPAs and fire fighting stakeholders, co-ordinate fire prevention activities and programmes and standardise operating and fire response procedures right across the province.
"We want to ensure that everybody is on the same page," said Sappi's KZN fire manager Ben Potgieter, who together with the KZN UFPA fire protection officer Simon Thomas, is driving the process.
The Ops Com has established four key programmes for implementation in 2010. These are:
- Education & awareness programme – this is an ambitious plan to disseminate information about fire prevention and to raise awareness through the media, email correspondence, poster campaigns, visits and exhibitions to members of the public at every level. The programme will reach and involve schools, communities, local and provincial government, tourism organisations, community organisations, NGOs and forestry stakeholders.
- Fire readiness – standard operating procedures are being developed to ensure that all stakeholders across the province are aligned.
- Standardisation of retardants – the plan is to standardise the use of retardants for both air and ground teams.
- Fire fighting co-ordination – the committee is establishing an incident command system that will work through all the FPA operations rooms to identify role players within the province who will manage fires. Thus, there will be different levels of command for big fires that are crossing or threatening to cross municipal boundaries, fires within a single FPA's area of responsibility that are crossing landowner boundaries, and fires on individual properties within a municipality.
"Last year was a better year from a fire point of view because people were so much more organised," said Simon Thomas. "The FPAs in the province were more organised, we've drawn WoF in under the KZN Umbrella FPA, and we have pooled resources. Now we are establishing operating standards so that we are all following a single, effective strategy."
Published in April 2010