News / South Africa

Ilse de Lange
2 minute read
27 Jan 2017
5:56 am

‘Negligent’ Mopani municipality to pay for timber farm blaze

Ilse de Lange

The fire, which started on a state farm, spread out of control while two municipalities haggled over who's responsibility it was to call and pay for air support to extinguish the fire.

Photo: Supplied

The Mopani municipality will have to compensate a Tzaneen timber firm for the damages it suffered when a fire spread from a state farm and destroyed a plantation.

Judge Dawie Fourie ruled in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria that the Mopani municipality had been negligent by not ensuring a fire, which started on the Tzaneen local municipality’s Hamabuya farm in August 2012, was extinguished before it became out of control.

The fire was allowed to spread out of control, while Tzaneen and Mopani were arguing about who was responsible for calling and paying for air support to extinguish the blaze.

The judge ruled Mopani was liable to compensate timber company Bedrock Mining Support, whose Leobi plantation near Tzaneen was destroyed.

Bedrock sued both the Tzaneen and Mopani municipalities for more than R1.8 million after the fire, but Tzaneen settled the claim when the municipality agreed to pay the timber company R1 million.

ALSO READ: Outrage as man leaves baby in car

The amount Mopani has to pay will only be determined at a later stage.

According to evidence before court, Tzaneen’s failure to maintain roads on its property had resulted in existing roads becoming overgrown with vegetation, which prevented firefighters from reaching all the burning areas on the Hamabuya farm.

When the fire started, Mopani’s Disaster Management centre initially did not answer its phones. Despite being begged to do so, it also failed to send a grader to allow firefighters access to the Hamabuya farm nor to get aerial support to combat the fire.

This was despite the Letaba Fire Protection Association having a spotter plane and helicopter on standby and a Working on Fire team being on standby.

Mopani insisted it could not call for aerial support because it was not a member of the Fire Protection Association, but the chairperson of the Letaba Fire Protection Association, Trevor Phillips, testified the municipality had been asked in vain many times to become a member.

He said Mopani was entitled to request aerial support if it wished to do so.

Judge Fourie ruled that Mopani had a legal duty to have taken positive measures by calling for aerial support before the fire became uncontrollable.

For more news your way, follow The Citizen on Facebook and Twitter.