Forest fire management underway

27 July 2020 | Disasters

ELLANIE SMIT

WINDHOEK



Every year, forest fires burn about two million hectares of vegetation in fire-prone regions in Namibia, threatening lives and property as well as degrading the environment.

The environment ministry has therefore commenced with a national fire management programme, with the intention to detect, prevent and supress fires.

This is in anticipation of the fire season, which lasts from July to January every year. Ministry spokesperson Romeo Muyunda said under this management strategy, more emphasis is put on education and training local communities in firefighting skills and establishing community-based fire crews. He said training involves fire behaviour and effects, fire prevention, firefighting and management.



Fire management plans

The ministry, through the forest directorate, can also assist individuals, communities and organisations with basic training and the development of fire management plans that will give guidance on how to manage fires on a piece of land, he said.

“We have also started with the internationally-practiced prescribed early burning, which is pre-planned ignition of fire for specific purposes such as fuel reduction, habitat modification, improvement of natural resources and removal of encroacher bushes.” He added that though fire is generally considered as dangerous, pre-planned fire is good as it provides agricultural and conservation benefits. “Currently, the ministry is in a process of servicing and repairing firefighting vehicles and machines. Also, the directorate has conducted needs assessment and is in a process of ordering additional firefighting equipment to reach out to all fire-prone corners of the country.”



Fire breaks

Muyunda said the ministry additionally facilitates the preparation of extensive networks of fire breaks annually, and has started clearing fire breaks in fire-prone regions.

To date, the ministry has cleared 634 kilometres of the expected 3 027km countrywide.

In the Oshana Region, 280km has been cleared, as well as 124km in Oshikoto, 50km in Ohangwena, 100km in Zambezi and 40km in Kavango West and East.

Otjozondjupa, Omaheke and Khomas will follow soon.

According to Muyunda, the occurrence of fire is monitored continuously through the ministry's National Remote Sensing Centre via satellite. e, however, added that they still request members of the public to report any fires to the ministry as soon as possible for swift response.



Public cooperation

“Communities and farmers are also called upon to organise themselves in small groups and suppress fires with basic tools while awaiting forestry.”

Muyunda said the ministry is seeking the cooperation of the public to assist with fighting fires where and when required. “The public is called upon to use fire responsibly and to avoid destructive fires that cause damages to people's properties and the environment.” The ministry also advised that the community carry out slash-and-burn or crop field clearing in the late afternoon from 18:00 onwards, and early morning hours until 09:00.

To report a fire, call 061 208 7291 during working hours or 081 1444 878 after hours and on weekends.