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MBABANE - Catastrophic! This is the one word that can best describe the damage caused by wildfires that spread throughout the country since Thursday night.

Precious wildlife perished, 400 hectares of forestry worth E20 million was burnt to ashes, an orphanage’s structures were gutted and families were left with no shelter after their homes were destroyed by the inferno.

The Montigny Investment-owned Usutu Forest suffered a significant economic setback after its forestry was burnt by the fire that is said to have been started at a nearby farm

According to Montigny Investment Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Andrew Le Roux, the weather was so bad that the strong winds and dry conditions that made it impossible for the company to put out the fire since this would have posed a danger to their lives.
He said ensuring that people were safe became their number one priority and unfortunately, they could not contain the fire.

Le Roux explained that the fire started from the neighbouring farm and burnt the forestry near Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary.
He said he heard that some of the guests at the nature reserve had to be evacuated as the fire came really close to the camp.
This was corroborated by Anne Reilly from Big Game Parks, who said they had to evacuate about 100 guests from the game reserve, which was almost fully booked. 

She said once the fires started, they kept their guests informed and urged them to be vigilant, so that when it came nearby, they could escape on time.
Reilly said the fire burnt near their camp, Sondzela Backpackers and Reilly’s Rock.

animals were burnt

She said some of the animals at the nature reserve were burnt as they could not run to safety on time. Reilly commended the effort put in by the members of staff in fighting the fire.

A video footage taken during the fire outbreak shows the animals surrounded by the fire with nowhere to run to.
Reilly said the damage also occurred on the animal’s grazing land but they were yet to assess the damage to the nature reserve in terms of the monetary value.
Meanwhile, fresh from celebrating 10 years of existence, Project Canaan – a children’s home situated at Sidvokodvo, had its personnel going through a traumatic period of fighting the wildfire, which threatened to burn down the establishment.

The celebrations were held on Thursday, on the same day that the fire was allegedly started by unknown individuals.
The personnel, including the directors of the children’s home and some workers spent Thursday night and the whole of Friday trying to put out the flames, which burnt down the chapel and bales of hay, which are used for its dairy farm.

homesteads were also damaged

Not only were businesses affected but some homesteads were also damaged by the fire.
One of these was a homestead belonging to a Gamedze family from Gilgal, near Siphofaneni, where five houses were razed to the ground with all household items that were inside.

Mfanuzile Gamedze said the houses were home to six people and the items which were burnt included beds, blankets, clothes and important documents.
He explained that the houses were all thatched with grass. He said when they noticed that the first house was burning; they tried to put out the fire, but failed.
“While we were still trying to put out the fire on the first house, the second house caught fire as well,” he said.

Gamedze said the family members now lived in a house made from corrugated iron sheets which were in the same homestead.
“We do not know what to do right now. I cannot even think straight, I don’t even know what to say,” Gamedze said. Montigny’s Le Roux said such fires were prevalent at this time of the year, particularly during weekends. He attributed this to the fact that some people used the weekends to clear grass around their homesteads using fire.
“Once the fire is out of their property, they leave it to burn, causing significant damage,” he said.

stringent laws

He implored government to come up with stringent laws which could prevent people from using fire to clear dry vegetation on their land during the windy season.
“There have to be consequences and even criminal charges laid against people who recklessly use fire during this season,” he said.


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