Burning questions about veld fire legislation answered Print E-mail
News - Ons Omgewing
Wednesday, 21 May 2008 02:00
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We’re in for a horrible veld fire season. Thanks to the abundant rain, the Bronberg’s grass, weeds and shrubs have grown profusely and pose a greater than usual fire risk this winter. Many Bronbergers are still unclear about the way in which the new veld fire legislation applies to smallholders. What happens when a fire spreads over many smallholdings? Who should be held responsible for damages?

According to the National Veld and Forest Fire Act a number of different people could be liable for damages including: the person who started the fire or his employer if it was started when the person was at work; the owner or the person in control of the land where the fire started; and the owner or the person in control of land over which the fire spread. This means that you can go away for the weekend and come home facing a number of damage claims if a veld fire had simply spread over your plot to somebody else’s. The veld fire legislation calls this‘presumption of negligence’.

The best way to protect yourself is to form a Fire Protection Association (FPA) with your neighbours. The ‘presumption of negligence’ does not apply to an FPA member. Section three of the Act says that any group of owners who wish to co-operate to predict, prevent, manage and extinguish veld fires may form an FPA. The Act provides a framework for owners to organise and collaborate in veld fire management.

Many people, who rent smallholdings or even a part of a smallholding, think that they will not be held responsible when fires spread over the property. The Act applies to lessees as much as it applies to the people who own properties. The basic rule is that every property must have firebreaks along the boundary. The breaks must be“sufficient to control the spread of wildfires”. Firebreaks may not be burnt during times when there is a high fire risk.

Working on Fire (WoF), a government- supported programme formed in 2003 to develop an integrated national fire-fighting prevention and wildfire fighting capacity, brought out a number of training manuals. ‘Veld and Forest Firefighting Fundamentals’, by William C Teie and edited by Fred Favard, is one of the latest books. This handbook contains useful information about fires and at the back there is a comprehensive glossary of firefighting terminology
and a description of the National Veld and Forest Fire Act. It is available from Working on Fire for R64, excluding postage. To order, contact Colleen Sparg at 013-741-7461 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Firewise, a WoF initiated partnership, recently released ‘You, Wildfires and the Law’ - an illustrated A6 booklet by environmental lawyer David Waddilove. The booklet costs R5 and can be ordered from Philippa Huntly at 021-799-8692 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

The Department of Water Affairs & Forestry’s provincial fire advisor for Gauteng is Luke Radebe. His office is on the 15th Floor, Sanlam Plaza East Building, 285 Schoeman Street, Pretoria. You can contact him at 012-392-1300 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

The veld fire season is upon us

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