By Chrispin Inambao WINDHOEK Concerted efforts involving NDF soldiers, police and forestry officials, aimed at extinguishing a huge bushfire that ravaged vast tracts of prime grazing areas and caused substantial crop damage in Caprivi paid off when the fire was finally contained. Though essentially ill-equipped, the team that worked throughout the day on Thursday until the early hours of Friday eventually extinguished the inferno that swept through hundreds of acres of pasture, devastating harvested maize and crop still on the stalk. Last Friday, Dennis Sikabongo, the District Forestry Officer said the joint team working around the clock eventually extinguished the blaze that raged for a whole week engulfing the constituencies of Katima Rural, Sibbinda and Linyanti in thick smoke in its wake. The fire-fighting team used some mobile water tanks and in some cases fire-beaters and others improvised using freshly chopped tree branches to put out the blaze that reduced both pasture and crop to ashes in the affected areas in the three constituencies. By 02h15 on Friday, the teams managed to extinguish the fire in the mosquito-infested area of Lake Liambezi in the maize-belt of Muyako, but by 03h30 the same morning, prevailing winds reignited the embers under the burnt vegetation. The forestry technician said some 90 minutes later, the recurring fire was finally subdued by a team that comprised of some 30 NDF soldiers and 15 members of the Special Field Force (SFF) dispatched from Katima to assist with the fire-fighting. At Chinchimani, where the fire had spread and partially damaged a maize field belonging to Chief George Mamili of the Mafwe tribe it was earlier snuffed out on Wednesday, said Sikabongo. By Friday a team to conduct ” mop-up” operations to extinguish any fire that could be sparked by underlying embers, was sent to the affected areas. At least two mud-and-thatch huts with their belongings were also gutted in the fire that preliminary findings showed was caused by communal activities. In terms of the powers vested in the traditional authorities, they could fine people found guilty of starting bushfires up to seven cattle or a monetary equivalent. It is a different ball game when it comes to magistrate’s courts, where the fines are stiffer, going up to a maximum of N$8 000 or two years in jail or both. Though some villagers refused point-blank to assist in the fire fighting on grounds that they are not going to receive any monetary benefit for their sweat, the senior forestry official praised the community at Muyako for assisting voluntarily without grumbling. He appealed to traditional leaders in the area to impress upon their subjects about the importance of lending assistance when there are such emergencies, as it is solely to their benefit. “Villagers must assist because it is to their benefit though it appears some of them are afraid of becoming casualties when you have fires of this magnitude. Traditional authorities should also investigate when they see a column of smoke as not doing so could be too late, too little and it could be to their disadvantage,” he warned. Forestry officials in Caprivi say they could round up the expertise to put out bushfires expeditiously but currently their efforts are being hampered by the problem of inadequate equipment and budgetary constraints. Because of inadequate funds, they normally battle fires without the energising benefit rations could have on this energy-depleting job. The frequency at which bushfires burn in this region not only ruins good pastures but it inflicts untold damage on economically and medicinally valuable tree species. Settlements in the constituencies bordering Botswana are becoming more and more prone to bushfires spreading from that country because there are allegations that officials from Botswana have diverted the water of the Chobe/Linyanti River from the Kapani area. This has reduced the tributaries of that river on the Namibian side, that usually serve as fire-barriers, into dry channels that cannot prevent a blaze from sweeping through. Several sources at Katima Mulilo have appealed to the Government to probe the water diversion into the famed Okavango Delta, as this concrete barrier was erected without consultations with Namibia in terms of protocols governing shared rivers.
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