Lohatlha fire could have legal repercussions

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Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) raised the possibility of a legal claim against the owners of the land where the runaway fire at Lohatlha originated last month. This concern was expressed during an oversight visit to the Northern Cape Province training area following the deadly blaze that spread to the SA Army’s Combat Training Centre.

A Parliamentary Communication Service statement has it “the committee queried whether the SANDF (SA National Defence Force) plans to lodge a legal claim” against the mine from where the fire reportedly “emanated”.  Parliamentarians were told a board of inquiry “is looking into the matter and will determine whether there are grounds to pursue this course of action”.

“The committee heard that the fire originated outside the training area and was fanned by a westerly wind travelling at 73 km/h. Combatting the fire became impossible due to the continuously changing direction of the wind. The committee noted that the extreme weather conditions experienced that day could be attributed to global warming, that the region is dry in any event and has become prone to wildfires,” the statement reads in part.

The South African Presidency in a statement issued a day after the fire noted the fire started in Kathu, the home of the massive Kumba opencast iron ore mine, 56 km from the CTC.

Six soldiers died in the fire on part of the 160 000 hectare training area with “significant equipment losses” recorded. These, parliamentarians heard, were 12 Casspirs, 14 logistic vehicles and “camping equipment”. Other equipment lost was reported as mobile pantries, a field hospital container and equipment, ablution trailers, fuel and water bunkers and “other main mission vehicles”. This was not confirmed by either Department of Defence (DoD) or SANDF Directorate Corporate Communications (DCC).

The PCDMV contingent was further told firebreaks at and around the CTC are maintained annually and were “recently inspected” ahead of the division-level exercise Vuk’uhlome, now underway. However, due to the intensity and velocity of the fire, there is a need to enlarge the previously prescribed width of fire breaks.

The PCDMV visit was, according to the Parliamentary Communication Service statement, to acquaint itself with conditions as well as support the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and the families of the deceased members.