FIRE SEASON HAS STARTED in the Western Cape: November to April

Fires cause devastation to the agricultural sector contributing to the loss of millions each year. With increasing number of warmer days, increasing evaporation and water scarcity in regions, the Western Cape needs to be on high alert during the fire season. This section provides landowners with information on their legal duties regarding fires and the proactive role of Fire Protection Associations (FPA). Find the contact details of your district FPA manager by clicking on the interactive map here

National Veld and Forest Fire Act (Act No. 101 of 1998)

  • The National Veld and Forest Fire Act (NVFFA) is one attempt on the part of government in South Africa to control wildland fires, and is administered by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF). The NVFFA is specific to wildland fires and outlines the responsibilities and mandates of both public and private bodies in respect of wildland fires, covering both their ignition and the conditions under which they are able to spread. The Act does this by providing, inter alia, for the establishment of Fire Protection Associations (FPAs) and the adoption of a fire danger rating system. It creates specific duties around fire prevention and firefighting.

 Why should landowners look to manage wildfire?

  • It makes good business sense and landowners are legally obliged to do so. Regardless of the legal obligations, however, a proactive approach to the management of wildfires can help reduce the harm, loss of productivity, disruption, and loss of opportunity that inevitably follows in the wake of an uncontrolled fire. This proactive approach lies in the adoption of an Integrated Fire Management system.

 What are the legal duties of landowners in respect of wildfire prevention as detailed in the NVFFA?

  • Legally, the NVFFA imposes a number of duties on individual landowners that are intended to reduce the harm from wildfires.

o   You may not start a wildfire (s 18(1)).

o   You may only start a fire, including a cooking or braai fire, in a designated area.

o   You must have equipment available to fight wildfires (s 17(1)).

o   You must have trained personnel available to fight wildfires (s 17(1).

o   You must have a person on the property who keeps a lookout for fires (s 17(2)).

o   You must establish a system of firebreaks (s 12).

o   You may not burn firebreaks or carry out controlled burns when the Fire Danger Index is high or the FPA has objected to such burning taking place.

o   You must manage the fuel load on land under your control. This means that you must remove invasive alien vegetation from the land, as well as other vegetation that creates unwanted fuel loads.

 What is the presumption of negligence in relation to wildfires?

Section 34 of the NVFFA creates a presumption of negligence in relation to wildfires.

  • If a person bringing a civil claim against a landowner proves that:

o   he or she suffered loss;

o   the loss was caused by a wildfire; and

o   the wildfire started on or spread from land owned by the landowner;

  • The landowner against whom the claim is made is presumed to have acted negligently in relation to the wildfire unless:

o   the landowner proves that he or she was not negligent; or

o   the landowner is a member of an FPA in the area where the fire occurred, in which case the person bringing the claim must prove that he or she was negligent.

 What is an FPA?

  • A Fire Protection Association (FPA) is an organisation formed by landowners to predict, prevent, manage, and help fight wildfires in an area in order to protect lives, livelihoods, property, and the environment. Further, it is an organisation that has been registered as an FPA by the Minister responsible for the administration of the National Veld and Forest Fire Act (Act 101 of 1998).

Find the contact details of your district FPA manager by clicking on the interactive map here. 

 Why should landowners join an FPA?

Co-operation among rural owners and managers of land is required for the effective management and prevention of veldfires. Government cannot take on the duties and responsibilities of landowners for fire protection. The Act places this responsibility on landowners

  • Landowners have to comply with the National Veld and Forest Fire Act whether they belong to an FPA or not. FPAs help their members to fulfill their legal responsibilities by providing advice and guidance on how to reduce the wildfire risk. FPAs also help members by coordinating activities before, during, and after fires, and over the period of the fire season.
  • No presumption of negligence in civil claims for damage where a fire from the member's land causes damage or loss to another person (section 34). It is for this reason that insurance companies will often grant a rebate on premiums for those who are members of FPAs.
  • The benefits of co-operation in preventing and combating veldfires through the institution of the FPA, within the framework of an agreed veldfire management strategy.
  • The cost saving that comes from avoiding duplication with for example disaster management plans and agricultural conservation programmes.
  • The protection that comes from the enforceable rules of the FPA, as established in its constitution. The fact that FPA rules are enforceable in the FPA area protects members from the actions of non-members.
  • The registered Fire Protection Officers (FPO) of an FPA receives powers to enforce the Act and FPA rules.
  • Improved communication among members, for example, of fire hazard conditions as well as between members and the Minister and other role players.
  • Free access to research commissioned by the Minister on the prevention and combating of veldfires and on the use of controlled fire in sustainable forest management.
  • Possible relief from certain prevention measures, for example, the duty to create and maintain firebreaks, depending on the contents of the FPA's veldfire management strategy.
  • The overall benefits of progressive capacity building within the FPA and thus among its members, with overall reduction in the risks of veldfires.

What is the role and what are the duties of an FPA?

According to the NVFFA, s3(1) a Fire Protection Association must at least meet the following minimum requirements.

  • Develop and apply a wildfire management strategy for its area.
  • Provide, in the strategy, for agreed mechanisms for the coordination of actions with adjoining Fire Protection Associations in the event of a fire crossing boundaries.
  • Make rules to be lodged with the Minister, which bind its members and that provide for:

o   the minimum standards to be maintained by members in relation to all aspects of wildfire;

o   prevention and readiness for firefighting;

o   controlled burning to conserve ecosystems and reduce the fire danger; and

o   any other matter which is necessary for the Fire Protection Association to achieve its objectives.

  • Identify the ecological conditions that affect the fire danger.
  • Regularly communicate the fire danger rating referred to in sections 9 and 10 to its members.
  • Organise and train its members in firefighting, management, and prevention.
  • Inform its members of equipment and technology available for preventing and fighting wildfires.
  • Provide management services, training and support for communities, in their efforts to manage and control wildfires.
  • Supply the Minister at least once every 12 months with statistics about wildfires in its area.
  • Furnish any information requested by the Minister in order to prepare or maintain the fire danger rating system.
  • Exercise the powers and perform the duties delegated to it by the Minister.
  • Appoint a Fire Protection Officer, unless a municipality is a member.

Who has a right and who is obliged to be a member of an FPA?

  • All landowners in an area for which a Fire Protection Association has been registered have a right to join the Fire Protection Association, provided they undertake to abide by its constitution and rules (NVFFA 1998, s 4(6)).
  • The owner in respect of State land must join any Fire Protection Association registered in the area in which the land lies (NVFFA 1998, s 4(8)).
  • The municipality for the area in which an FPA is registered must become a member if it has a service (NVFFA 1998, s 4(7)(a)).
  • Where there is a designated service in the area in which an FPA has been established, the designated service must become a member of the Fire Protection Association (NVFFA 1998, s 4(7)(b)).

Find the contact details of your district FPA manager by clicking on the interactive map here

FAQ: 

(These questions have been identified through consultation with FPA's)

  1. Do I have to apply for a burn permit?
    1. Yes. It is part of the Municipal by-laws.
  2. Do I need a burn permit for burning a bit of rubbish or branches?
    1. Yes. Major law suits have been won due to a neighbour's out of control rubbish pit fire.
    2. Consult FPA for burn permits. 
  3. Do I need a permit to burn stubble fields?
    1. Yes, consult FPA. Some FPA’s issue special permits to allow for burning in summer.
  4. Where should I put my fire breaks?
    1. The Law says you need fire breaks all along all boundary fences. 
    2. The Law allows for Landowners to apply for exemption form fire breaks through the FPA.
    3. The Law allows for Landowners to make written agreements with neighbour's to move a fire break away from the boundary to, for example, an already existing road.
  5. What should a fire break look like?
    1. Break next to open veld 20m wide.  
    2. Other breaks minimum 10m wide.
    3. Prepared by mowing, brush cutting or hoeing. May not cause erosion. 
  6. Is the FPA a fire fighting force?
    1. No. The NVFFA requires landowners to have enough trained staff and firefighting equipment to stand a reasonable chance of preventing fires and stopping them from spreading to adjacent properties. Landowners have to comply with the NVFFA, whether they belong to an FPA or not. The FPA is a platform for landowners to coordinate efforts and share resources during fire incidents. In circumstances where there is no fire brigade service some FPAs have expanded their mandate to include this role.
  1. How do I join?
    1. Refer to relevant Fire Protection Association website or contact manager. Find the contact details of your district FPA manager by clicking on the interactive map here

Emergency Contacts: 

For wildfires contact district fire brigade:

The City of Cape Town FRS

  • 107 (landline)
  • 021 480 7700 (cell)

Cape Winelands FBS

  • 021 887 4446

Overberg FRS

  • 028 425 1690

Eden Fire Line

  • 044 805 5071

West Coast FBS

  • 022 433 8700

Resources

On 21 July 2016 WWF held a Fire Management Workshop at Boschendal Wine Estate. The event provided producers and partners with information presented by specialists in the fire management sector. In preparation for the next fire season we have provided you with this crucial information through provision of the presentations delivered on the day. Please see the presentations below.

WWF Fire Management Workshop provides the purpose, agenda of the workshop and contact details of presenters.

Introduction to Incident Command System

Insurance provides information on veld fires and liability insurance as well as the law and the most common causes of fire origin.

CapeNature: Fynbos, Fire and Ecology provides information on fire occurrences, seasons and causes as well as the fynbos fire regime.