Fire Ruins Farmland


By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK Ruinous bush fires sparked by human activity in the Dordabis area devastated one of the country’s most prestigious game farms, Kowas Game Ranch, outside Windhoek. Owner of the farm Dannie Strauss, who is also the president of the Namibia Trophy Hunting Association (NAPHA), almost lost all of his game. The 4 500 hectares of farmland were reduced to a desolate piece of land by the inferno that raged since Thursday before it was eventually extinguished on Sunday. The fire was also made worse by the prevailing winds as well as the dry grass in the area. What remains on a once prime farming land is a mere 600 hectares of barren land. The fire that erupted last week Thursday up until Sunday left behind a trail of devastation for this farm owner as well as several others. Sixteen farms have been affected by the fire that has left behind black mountains and burnt out farm area stretching over 40 000 hectares. When New Era took the road down south to Blumfelde, 17 burnt out bloated game carcasses could be seen lying trapped against the fence where the wild game was trying to flee from the fast-spreading inferno. Most of the dead animals were springbok, kudu and gemsbok found on Farm Gumgums situated some 10 km from Kowas. All over what used to be a red Kalahari terrain of more than 40 000 hectares has been turned into black and white spots and smouldering tree trunks. As for farm owner Strauss, the fire left devastation in its wake in just 40 minutes as farm workers and neighbouring farm owners voluntarily assisted with putting out the fire. “It’s unbelievable how fast the fire spread. This is a crisis for my business and I can still smell the dead carcases of game, but cannot find them yet,” said the traumatised farm owner who was worried about the possibility of not being able to make a profitable business during this hunting season. “I can’t go on trophy hunting expeditions with my clients anymore because I am faced with terrible damage on my farm of somewhere between N$500 000 and N$600 000 just for now, because the whole damage still needs to be calculated fully.” Furthermore, the huge flames have also affected the underlying water installations and electricity poles on the farm. However, soon after the fire subsided officials from NamPower were present to rectify the situation. Close to 16 species of wildlife – springbok, gemsbok, wildebeest and zebras to mention but a few – were affected by the fire. Some of the animals fled from the flames, while others got caught up in the game-proof fences. “I had to kill three wildebeest yesterday because they were half burnt,” said the foreman of Kowas Farm Christi Liebenberg as he showed a barely alive eland calf that was severely burnt. “I think we’ll have to put it down to take it out of its misery,” he added. On Kowas Farm only a half-tame warthog fondly called “Scurumba” escaped the blaze by seeking refuge in the farmhouse where he is now nursing minor injuries. Other affected farm areas are that of Doornpoort where three cattle and one calf succumbed to the fire, while 500 sheep perished on another farm nearby. No human life was lost in the fire that left some of the 4×4 bakkies charred black, as the farmers and close to 300 volunteers pulled forces together to fight it. New Era was informed that 100 members of the National Defence Force (NDF) were also dispatched to the area to assist in the fire-fighting exercise. Word has it that the fire was caused by a grader after its blade struck a piece of rock, igniting a flame that spread out to the rest of the area. Strauss denies reports in a weekly newspaper that the fires were caused by trophy hunting tourists from his farm. The dilemma faced by most farm owners is that of having lost huge stretches of grazing farmland, which means very little grass for the animals to feed on. “All the animals have gone and luckily we have been getting bales of grass from neighbouring farmers in the area. Our only need now is lucerne as fodder for the game,” said another farmer, adding that after the fire died down leaving choking smells of smoke in the air, there was a massive influx of mice running into the houses. “There was a mass of mice everywhere in my place,” was another concern raised. Most of the farmers agree there needs to be a fire preparedness programme in place for future veld fires of this magnitude. “The lesson is it was amazing to see how we as farmers stood together in a crisis so we should also stand together to prevent catastrophes like this,” ended Strauss. Meanwhile, the Directorate of Parks and Wildlife Management in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism is aware of the recent fire and its devastation. Director Ben Beytell informed New Era that farmers like Strauss who lost practically their entire plots are invited to apply for a special permit for relocating their businesses to other farm areas until such time as their grazing has come back again. Beytell noted that one of the problems with game-proof fencing is that animals are unable to flee or escape easily. “Our game are well adapted to veld fires, but the game-proof fencing traps them inside when fires break out,” explained Beytell, adding that he would advise the affected farmers to rather use the cut grass alongside the road instead of ordering lucerne which is much more expensive. Farmers described this catastrophe as the biggest veld fire in that area since the last one was recorded there in 1974.