Despite the best efforts to quell the flames, the Richards Bay fire, that started on Saturday, is blazing on, with still a long way to go to extinguish it.
According to Mfundo Ngcobo, the public relations and communications officer for NCT Forestry Co-operative Limited, while the cause of the fire is still unknown, the combination of extremely hot and dry weather and gale force winds have aided in the blaze’s rapid spread.
The fire is still ongoing. A wood chip fire of this extent burns internally in the same way as a fire would in a peat bog or marsh and is expected to take considerable time to extinguish totally. We are focused on cooling the pile down continually and preventing it from spreading.
Zululand Observer on Tuesday reported that approximately 100 000 litres of water had been dropped onto the stockpiles on Monday, with waterbombers still hard at work on Tuesday morning trying to prevent further damage to infrastructure.
Ngcobo said the fire may take weeks to completely mop up and, at this stage, it was difficult to provide a reliable time estimate.
“Given the extent of the fire spread and the multiple elements that would have to be assessed: stock, infrastructure, work and storage surface etc. once engineers have safe access, they will be in a better position to provide a time scale.
“A complete assessment will be conducted once danger is minimised. To date, the site has been deemed too dangerous to access to commence with any investigation,” said Ngcobo.
We are very grateful for the support we have received and continue to receive from industry players like TWK, Sappi, Mondi, the FPA, Safire Insurance, as well as uMhlathuze Fire Department and Porky’s Restaurant, that has graciously been giving our firefighters food and drinks, among many others. Our members and tree farming operations have also helped considerably.
Meanwhile, NCT Forestry Co-operative Limited general manager Danny Knoesen has dispelled rumours that have begun circulating regarding the cause and impact of the fire.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Knoesen emphasised that the cause of the fire was still unknown.
“During this time of crisis, it is concerning to note speculative rumours surfacing about toxic fumes from the burning wood chips and imminent and massive job losses. NCT assures the public that these are pure speculation.
“The wood chips NCT have in stock are merely small pieces of raw wood [as you would use on your braai fire] with no added chemicals.”
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Furthermore, there is absolutely no talk of job losses. NCT as a co-operative is fully invested in the needs of its staff and valued members comprising independent growers and suppliers and definitely plans to rebuild. We need people to do this.
“Any comments as to the origin of the fire must also remain pure speculation at this juncture.
“The site is too dangerous to access and assess at present and absolutely no investigation has been conducted to date. There are simply no facts to work on currently.
“The chip piles are likely to burn for a considerable time and all that can be done currently is to cool them down and prevent spread.
“Extinguishing is going to be a long process,” said Knoesen.