Firth Group Farms Experience Most Intense Veld Fires This Year

Firth Group Veld Fires

This past weekend, veld fires threatened to completely overwhelm our team at the farm, with the worst fires experienced this year—truly intense and widespread they were, reportedly causing some injury to two farmers in the region. There was some loss to property and livestock. The loss of grazing however, was the most significant—with 657 hectares destroyed.

At our Hillcrest farm, water tanks, backup batteries, inverter, and water-pressure pumps were completely destroyed—a costly setup.

Veld fires, also known as wildfires or bushfires, pose significant challenges and dangers to farmers in South Africa—particularly in high-risk regions where seasonal winds threaten the spread veld fires at exponential rates. These fires are a recurrent and pervasive threat, especially during the dry, hot months, as well as extreme wind conditions that accompany the change of season from Winter to Summer.

Here are some of the key challenges and dangers they present:

  1. Livestock Threat: Veld fires can be devastating to livestock. The flames move quickly and can trap or injure animals, leading to injuries or loss of life. Smoke inhalation and burns can also harm the health of surviving livestock, impacting their productivity and the farmer’s income.
  2. Grazing Land Destruction: Grasslands and natural veld provide essential grazing areas for livestock. When a veld fire sweeps through, it destroys this vegetation, leaving farmers with insufficient food sources for their animals. This leads to a shortage of forage, forcing farmers to buy costly supplementary feed or reduce the size of their herds.
  3. Property Damage: Veld fires are notorious for causing damage to farm infrastructure and property. This includes farmhouses, barns, equipment, and fencing. Rebuilding and replacing these assets can be financially burdensome, adding to the already challenging situation.
  4. Economic Impact: Beyond the immediate costs of property damage and livestock losses, veld fires have long-term economic consequences. Farmers may face increased insurance premiums, reduced agricultural productivity, and the need for costly fire prevention measures.
  5. Ecosystem Disruption: Veld fires can disrupt the natural ecosystem, affecting plant and animal species that rely on these habitats. This can have cascading effects on biodiversity and ecological balance.
  6. Human Health Risks: Smoke from veld fires can pose serious health risks to farmers and their families. Respiratory problems and other health issues can arise from prolonged exposure to smoke and air pollution.
  7. Climate Change Feedback Loop: Veld fires release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. As temperatures rise and droughts become more frequent, the risk of veld fires increases, creating a dangerous feedback loop.

To mitigate the challenges and dangers posed by veld fires, farmers in South Africa often employ fire prevention and management strategies, such as controlled burns, firebreaks, and early warning systems. Additionally, public awareness campaigns and government initiatives aim to educate communities about fire safety and preparedness. However, combating veld fires remains a complex and ongoing challenge for farmers in the region, requiring continuous vigilance and cooperation among various stakeholders.

Piet Botma (Managing Director) reported that despite the significant loss of grazing, there’s still sufficient undamaged grazing to take care of current needs. Further, Botma said that thankfully the extensive pecan orchards were not affected at all—which was a huge sigh of relief. Also, the game were roaming on one of the larger camps, which meant that they too were able to escape the veld fires. The entire team now hopes and prays for early rains which ought to replenish the grazing with fresh new growth. Botma states that “there’s always reason to be positive”.

Lodge during firefighting
Lodge after firefighting
Vegetation damage with tanks and pump room damage
View from a bakkie
white area 657ha vegetation and grazing destroyed
White area - 657ha vegetation and grazing destroyed

Louise Firth, wife of the late John Firth, commended Piet Botma and his team on their tireless collective effort and amazing teamwork put into fighting these devastating fierce veld fires. Knowing that the property damage, grazing loss and human injury (or even death) could have been far worse, Louise told the team that there is “so much to be grateful for”.

Editor: Indeed, there truly is lots to be thankful for. We wish the Makwassiespruit team all the best as they continue to clean up and move forward—ever-positive, with spirits never broken …always resilient and determined not to let the ongoing threat of veld fires extinguish their fiery resolve to remain ever-prepared for the next round of veld fires which are certain to come again.

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About the Author
Adrian Baillie-Stewart

Adrian Baillie-Stewart

On a part-time basis, Adrian serves as lead digital communications consultant for the Firth Group of farms. This includes Firth Red Brangus, Firth Wagyu, Maquassi Spruit Pecan Nuts and Highlands Cycads. A communications specialist at Content Strategics (Pty) Ltd., Adrian helps small to medium enterprises achieve their primary operational goals by maximising the commercial impact of their media content published across multiple online digital platforms.

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