Some 700 volunteer fire fighters have been trained in basic fire-fighting techniques with the help of Australian expertise as the effort to stem the ravaging veldt fires gains momentum, the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism (MEWT) said on Tuesday.
Chief Forestry and Range Resources Officer Jeremiah Romontsho told a media briefing in Gaborone that a two-phase training programme has unrolled with the help of Australia’s government to help build capacity for all Batswana to manage fires.
“The first phase involves training fire fighters on the use of basic tools and strategies followed by advanced training on prescribed burning, incident command system and communicating fire investigation,” said Ramontsho.
Again, with the help of Australia, the Department of Forestry and Range Resources has embarked on public education and awareness campaigns aimed at sensitizing the nation about the dangers the fires pose.
MEWT spokesperson, Archibald Ngakayagae, urged society to uphold the responsibility of taking care of the environment in order to benefit from the natural resources.
“Starting fire that is uncontrollable is a crime,” Ngakayagae said.
All districts are being encouraged to develop contingency plans that detail the different roles each entity will play during the fire season.
Over three million hectares of Botswana’s land has been charred between early June and October by blazes that have scorched 73 000 hectares of terrain each month, destroying livestock and wildlife forage and veldt products that sustain livelihoods.
Fire incidents started in early June, especially in Central and Southern districts, Ngamiland, Ghantsi, and Kweneng with a total of 24 recorded. In June, the fire events increased to 53. For August and September, there were about 52 fire outbreaks covering all the districts in the country.
Head of the Fire Section in the Department of Conversation and Management, Jomo Mafoko, said his ministry foresees a high likelihood of a disastrous fire situation in the country if October produces no rain.
“The dry season is the period when Botswana experiences veldt fires because of burnable materials like trees and grass, which dry up and become easily ignited,” he said.
Mafoko said so far, a quarter of a million Pula has gone into fuel for the vehicles used for fire fighting and into subsistence for government employees.