Farmers work on a field outside Lichtenburg, a maize-growing area in the North West. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO
Farmers work on a field outside Lichtenburg, a maize-growing area in the North West. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO

Farmers battled for more than six hours to extinguish a runaway fire at the weekend that destroyed about 77‚000ha of land in the Free State.

Farmers between Bloemfontein and Kimberley lost millions of rand as the inferno tore across grazing fields‚ destroying a lapa‚ animal feed store and tractor.

Malcolm Procter from the Department of Agriculture‚ Forestry and Fisheries and Free State Agriculture CEO Gerhard Kriel visited the area on Tuesday afternoon, to determine the extent of damage.

"At this stage we estimate the fire damage to stand at 77‚000ha. The fire started at 1pm on Saturday and it was extinguished by 7.30pm on the same evening. The implication is that 12‚000ha burnt every hour, or 200ha a minute‚" Procter said.

He said farmers rallied together to extinguish the fire as there were no emergency personnel or firefighters on the scene to douse the flames. Procter said wind speeds of up to 40km/h were forecast for that day and suggested that somebody cooking at the roadside could have started the fire.

Free State police spokesperson W/O Lorraine Earle said more than 30 farms were affected by the fire. "At this stage they are still busy determining how many hectares burnt but it is definitely more than 60‚000. It is grazing fields and bushy areas where game is kept‚" she said.

"A lapa that someone lived in‚ a store with feed was also destroyed [and] in the store there was a tractor that burnt down. The fire caused a lot of damage. We suspect that the fire started next to the road. Our forensic team was on the scene on Monday‚ to try to pinpoint where the fire started exactly. An open fire next to the road at this stage seems to be the cause‚" Earle said.

She said an investigation was under way and no arrests had been made.

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