Frequently Asked Questions
FACTS ABOUT FIRE
IS FIRE ALWAYS BAD?
No. Fire is a part of the life cycle of natural ecosystems across South Africa. However, rising numbers of wildfires are taking place, and wildfires are much more intense in certain areas due to poor management. Many fires cause damage to the environment and people’s homes and livelihoods. Some also occur too frequently for the indigenous vegetation to recover. This is why Integrated Fire Management practice is important.
WHY IS THE NUMBER OF WILDFIRES RISING?
Absentee landowners and poor land management are one of the main reasons for the increase in wildfires. Invasive alien plants also increase the fuel load and fire risk.
People are flocking to large towns and cities, increasing the perimeter of the urban edge. As a result, there are more wildfires – most wildfires are lit by humans – and a greater risk that they will damage property.
Climate change is raising temperatures and creating tracts of tinder-dry veld, which increase the likelihood of fires starting, and their size and ferocity.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ME?
Your property is at greater risk of being overrun by wildfire than in the past. However, practising Integrated Fire Management can enormously reduce your risk. FPAs are acknowledged as the best model to ensure landscape-wide Integrated Fire Management.
IS THIS A FAIL-SAFE METHOD?
No. There is no magic wand for avoiding wildfire. But you can dramatically decrease the risk of this happening by practising Integrated Fire Management, as part of your local FPA’s wildfire management strategy.
FIRE PROTECTION ASSOCIATIONS
WHAT IS A FIRE PROTECTION ASSOCIATION (FPA)?
An FPA is an organisation formed by landowners to predict, prevent, manage and help fight wildfires in an area in order to protect lives, livelihoods, property and the environment.
These landowners include all state landowners, farmers, conservation agencies, parastatals such as Eskom, municipalities, fire brigades, rural communities and forestry companies. The responsibilities of landowners and FPAs are outlined in The National Veld and Forest Fire Act, Act 101 of 1998 (the Act).
WHAT DOES AN FPA DO?
The Act obliges each FPA to develop a wildfire management strategy for its area. Some FPAs compile Integrated Fire Management (IFM) plans. IFM is a series of actions that includes fire awareness activities, fire prevention activities (including risk reduction measures), fire detection, dispatch and coordination, fire suppression, fire damage rehabilitation and research at the local, provincial and national levels.
IS THE FPA A FIREFIGHTING FORCE?
No. The Act requires landowners to have enough trained staff and fire-fighting equipment to stand a reasonable chance of preventing fires and stopping them from spreading to adjacent properties.
HOW DOES THIS HELP ME?
WHY SHOULD I JOIN THE LOCAL FPA?
Landowners have to comply with the Act, whether they belong to an FPA or not. FPAs help their members to fulfil their legal responsibilities by providing advice and guidance about how to reduce the risk of wildfire. FPAs also help their members by co-ordinating activities during firefighting operations.
The FPA also helps you to take a host of practical measures to protect your property. More detail follows.
WHAT ARE MY LEGAL RESPONSIBILITIES REGARDING WILDFIRE?
The Act states that any landowner on whose land a fire may start, or from which it may spread, must take actions to prevent destruction from runaway wildfire. This includes:
- Preparing and maintaining firebreaks
- Training staff to start fighting such fires
- Ensuring that staff have the necessary equipment and protective clothing
The FPA helps you to fulfil these obligations better by pooling resources in a specific area, which reduces your costs.
PAYING FOR DAMAGE
If a fire starts on your property and you have not complied with the Act, you are legally responsible for any damage it causes to your neighbours’ properties.
If you are an FPA member and have complied with the Act and FPA’s rules, it will be the claimant’s responsibility to prove that you were negligent, at his cost. Landowners who are not members of an FPA must prove their own innocence at their own cost.
WHAT PRACTICAL AID IS AVAILABLE TO ME?
You cannot effectively prevent, manage and fight wildfires on your own. However, this is possible when you join an FPA, which offers the following services to members:
- Providing subsidised training in firefighting on an ad-hoc basis
- Providing trained and equipped firefighting teams for creating firebreaks and other fuel-load reduction activities
- Removing invasive alien vegetation and fighting fires, at a reduced cost
- Providing basic equipment, such as fire beaters, at subsided prices
- Daily distribution of the Fire Danger Index
- Providing fire awareness information and materials
- Facilitating the process of obtaining burning permits in some areas
- Drawing up action plans and IFM plans describing how to reduce and manage risks and what to do when fires break out
- A professional team of experts is available to visit your property and advise on fire risk management and IFM principles
- Improve coordination of fire management in a specific area.
ARE THERE OTHER ADVANTAGES FOR MEMBERS?
Yes, there are many more benefits of joining your local FPA. These include:
- Receiving ongoing information about fires in your area and the fire season
- Communication and ongoing lobbying for better equipment, help and support from other spheres of government and other role players
- Membership improves your position in communicating with and lodging complaints with other landowners, including parastatals
- Organisations such as Agri SA, and some insurance companies, support and in some cases require FPA membership
- Communicating members’ needs and concerns via the Umbrella FPA to a provincial and national level
THE FUNCTIONING OF FPAs
HOW MUCH DOES MEMBERSHIP COST?
Membership can cost as little as a few hundred rand a year, depending on the size of your property.
This fee is well worth it, as the help that is made available can prevent your own property from being razed by wildfire and avert the large legal claims that could result from a fire which ignites on your land and spreads to your neighbours’ property.
HOW ARE FPAs FUNDED?
FPAs are funded largely through membership fees and donations in kind. When membership increases, the FPA is able to grow and finance the work of the management team. These staff members explain the FPA’s work to prospective members, giving them advice and assistance and helping to expand the FPA so that it becomes more sustainable.
The challenge is to increase the numbers of members within each FPA to the point where the FPA can become sustainable in the long term.
WHAT IS A FIRE MANAGEMENT UNIT?
Large FPAs can divide their area into fire management units (FMUs), wards or business units. These FMUs manage fire risk and implement Integrated Fire Management at a local level.
The FPA decides on the boundaries of each FMU, oversees the efforts of the FMUs and co-ordinates their work.
FIREBREAKS – FAQs
MUST NEIGHBOURS BOTH MAKE A FIREBREAK?
Yes. Every property owner is obliged to create a firebreak between his land and those of his neighbours unless the Minister of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries has granted an exemption. This process of applying for exemption is facilitated by the FPA.
However, landowners can reach an agreement to have no firebreak on every property boundary, and to realign the firebreaks in a more practical place. The Minister does not need to approve such an agreement, although it is recommended that your FPA advises you on such a realignment.
WHO DETERMINES HOW BROAD A FIREBREAK SHOULD BE?
The law does not specify the size of firebreaks and the best ways of creating them, as conditions vary greatly across South Africa. The FPA will advise members about the optimal width of the firebreak and which methods to use when constructing breaks Some FPAs also supply a firebreak guideline documents.
MY NEIGHBOUR IS AN FPA MEMBER, BUT I SEE NO FIREBREAKS ON HIS LAND. WHAT SHOULD BE DONE?
It is important that Fire Management Units (FMUs) have regular local meetings in order to solve this kind of issue at a local level.
I HAVE A LARGE AREA OF INDIGENOUS VEGETATION ON MY LAND, BORDERING ON MY NEIGHBOUR’S PROPERTY. MUST I CREATE A FIREBREAK AROUND THIS WHOLE AREA?
Yes. You are legally obliged to create firebreaks. You will have to weigh up the cost of establishing the break against that of a court cases and claims against you, should the fire start on and spread from your property. It will be much cheaper to create firebreaks, especially with the FPA’s assistance. Indigenous forest can in some case be incorporated in the FMU fire break plan as a natural break, when applying for exemptions.
CAN THE FPA HELP ME TO BURN MY HARVEST STUBBLE?
Certainly, if the specific FPA has the resources to do so. Nevertheless, you will have to fulfil your responsibilities as a landowner in obtaining a permit to burn, being present at the time and making your own resources available to help. The FPA will assist you in the process of applying for a permit, and in some cases even issue permits.
DO I NEED A PERMIT TO CONDUCT A BURN ON MY FARM, AND WHERE DO I APPLY?
Yes. You will have to get a permit from your local fire brigade services or the organisation responsible. In some case there is a tariff for the permit, although your FPA may be able to get a discount for members.
IF I’M AN FPA MEMBER, WILL I HAVE TO PAY FOR FIREFIGHTERS TO PUT OUT FIRES ON MY LAND?
You are legally obliged to fight fires that start on your property and to stop them from spreading onto others’ properties. In these cases, you will have to pay for the firefighting services, irrespective of your membership status.
FPAs often have access to firefighting resources. However, you are not obliged to use the resources suggested by the FPA.
THE LAW SAYS LANDOWNERS MUST HAVE FIRE-FIGHTING EQUIPMENT. WHICH EQUIPMENT?
The Act says you should have the equipment deemed necessary in the circumstances. You will have to look at your specific circumstances to determine what is reasonable, although fire beaters and some basic water tanks are bare necessities. It is always better to obtain “bakkie sakkies” (water trucks), water pumps, and a water tank that can be towed by a bakkie or tractor. Some FPAs have a minimum requirement guideline.
IF A FIRE COMES OVER A HILL OR MOUNTAIN TOWARDS MY FARM, WILL THE FPA HELP ME?
The FPA is not a firefighting service but will assist members where possible. The legislation obliges landowners to have firebreaks in place, as well as equipment and staff available to fight fires at all times. In the case of large fires, an Incident Command (IC) structure will usually be established by the fire brigade, and the FPA will have a representative on this structure. The IC will then direct and co-ordinate fire-fighting efforts.
IF THERE IS A FIRE, CAN YOU ENTER PRIVATE PROPERTY?
Yes. If you believe a fire on someone else’s property is threatening lives, property or the environment, you and your workers can enter that property to fight the fire.
IF I FIGHT FIRES ON SOMEONE ELSE’S PROPERTY AND IT IS DAMAGED AS A RESULT, CAN THE OWNER SUE ME?
The Act says that you may destroy any trees, grass, crops or other plant growth in the process of fighting a fire. You may also enter any building, or remove any vehicles or implements, in the process.
Become a Member
For new applications, please click to download the application form / aansoek vorm below. Once filled in, these need to be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU ARE A MEMBER?
- An application form has been submitted
- Membership is confirmed when full annual membership fees are paid-up
- A statement confirming fees have been paid acts as proof of membership
- A membership certificate can be issued on request
- Complete the application form
- Provide your farm portion number and the correct details for invoicing
- Update your contact and property details when it changes (please access the relevant form using the button provided)