28 dead, hundreds homeless in S.Africa inferno

A total of 28 people died and hundreds of homes were destroyed by a series of forest fires which have swept through parts of South Africa and Swaziland since the end of last month, officials said Thursday.

“26 deaths have been reported thus far,” in South Africa alone, said a statement issued after a cabinet meeting Wednesday.

Two people were reported dead as a result of the fire in neighbouring Swaziland.

“Over 50,000 hectares (124,000 acres) of commercial plantations (and a further 18,000 (44,500 acres) in Swaziland) and over 200,000 hectares (494,000 acres) of grazing land have been extensively damaged”‘ by the rampaging fire, it said.

Thousands of jobs have been lost while loss of foreign revenue has also been recorded, the statement said, without giving details.

The fire raged in the rural parts of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province and neighbouring Mpumalanga, Free State, Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria.

“These are the worst fires in the history of our country,” the statement said.

A statement from KZN’s provincial government said thousands of pigs, sheep, cows and goats were either burnt alive or had to be put down.

An initial estimate said that around 320 homes were destroyed in KZN while there was also widespread damage to property in Mpumalanga, although an exact tally had not been established.

In neighbouring Swaziland, two people were killed as a fire destroyed 80 percent of a thick pine forest, as fires crossed over from South Africa, leaving some 100 people homeless.

Heavy winds fanned the flames after an exceptionally dry winter in the north.

“We still do not know the actual cause of the fire but we suspect it might be due to the very dry weather conditions in the affected areas,” said Mtholephi Mthimkhulu of KZN’s agriculture and environmental affairs department.

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