Swartland and West Coast grain farmers face huge potential economic losses should a wildfire pass through their farm before their grain is harvested. Fires on grainlands burn notoriously quickly and, given the way they burn, they can create several lines that can trap those fighting the fire.
The Greater Cederberg and Greater Overberg FPAs have therefore made a call to West Coast grain farmers and their teams to be EXTRA vigilant this year.
We’ve compiled a checklist of support activities to reduce risks before and during your harvest.
TIP 1: CHECK YOUR FIRE UNITS
Have your fire units (bakkie sakkies) been serviced? Have you tested them, and are they in good working order? Check these now, prior to harvest. (We know you are responsible farmers, and this is old “news” – so we’re just checking.)
TIP 2: ARE YOUR MAPS IN PLACE?
Draw a map of your farm, indicating water sources, entrance gates, building locations, escape routes, alternative roads etc. Keep a copy in your bakkie (to provide to the Incident Commander at a fire).
TIP 3: COULD YOUR MACHINES START A WILDFIRE?
Check your combine harvester and other machines regularly for anything that could spark a fire. Regularly maintain your combine – check for overheating. Maintain the electrical system. Remove dried plant material and rocks from the machine whenever possible (check the engine too). And don’t park it close to flammables, especially when it’s still hot.
TIP 4: HAVE YOU TRAINED YOUR TEAM?
Do all your team members, including temporary staff, know how to react should a wildfire start? Train your staff to react quickly and efficiently – providing info on what they must do immediately if a fire starts.
TIP 5: DO YOU HAVE FIRE-FIGHTING EQUIPMENT ON/NEAR THE HARVESTERS AND MOWERS?
It is vitally important that fires in grain fields be put out extremely quickly. Having a bakkie sakkie following the harvester and/or having fire beaters at hand when the fire starts, can be the difference between stopping a tiny fire or battling a huge blaze.
TIP 6: HAVE YOU SAVED THE PHONE NUMBERS?
Farmers and staff should save the relevant phone numbers in their emergency contacts (or somewhere they can easily find the numbers). Call the West Coast District Municipality 022 433 8700; Cape Winelands District Municipality 021 877 4446; Namakwa District Municipality 027 341 8132; first should a fire start on your farm; then your neighbours and FMU leader. Then please call the GCFPA for support: 022 931 2083. And remember, not all our West Coast valleys have cellphone reception. So where needed, ensure you have two-way radios with you, to call on the emergency channel when in need.
TIP 7: CAN YOU ‘DROP A PIN’?
This is a quick and effective way to inform your neighbours, fire-fighting teams and the GCFPA where the fire is. Remember: The sooner you report a wildfire, the quicker teams can assist you. The Fire Services do not mind turning around should the fire be contained before their arrival.
TIP 8: CAN YOU GIVE DIRECTIONS TO YOUR FARM?
In normal circumstances, this is easy. But during a wildfire threatening your house and livelihood, it’s not so simple. Save directions to your farm next to your landline, or on your cellphone (where you can easily access it), so that you can provide clear directions to fire-fighting teams.
It’s burning in my grainlands – what now?
Implement the tried and tested wildfire defence strategy: LCES (pronounced Laces).
(Have a lookout watching the fire move. This person communicates the fire’s movements clearly. Fire in grainlands moves fast, so make sure your lookout is safe.)
(Ensure all players are communicating clearly and calmly with each other, with the Incident Commander ultimately responsible for all calls.)
E: EXIT ROUTES
(Grain fires can burn in several lines at the same time, trapping fire-fighters. So be aware of 2 escape routes at all times.)
S: SAFETY ZONES
(Establish your safety zone, where all partners can retreat to during a fire. Ideally this should be ‘behind’ the grain fire, in an area that has already burned.)