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Farmer loses millions in Wellington arson

An export fruit farm in the Wellington area suffered millions of rands worth of damages in a suspected arson attack related to the ongoing agricultural strike says Western Cape Disaster Risk Management Centre spokesperson Colin Deiner.
Deiner said the farm‚ Sandrivier‚ experienced the arson attack in the early hours of Wednesday morning (16 January) and a barn and several vehicles were set alight and destroyed in the blaze.

"We believe that this attack was related to the strike. It seems that strikers are increasingly using fire as a means of action and it is causing us a big problem at the moment‚" he said.

The height of summer is the Western Cape's dry season making the province particularly vulnerable to bush fires that can spread extremely rapidly.

The provincial government has a standing contract with firefighting company Working on Fires‚ which has placed a total of 24 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters on standby.

At least three aircraft are used for each call out at a cost of R60‚000 per hour per aircraft.

Since December there have been 32 call outs to fight fires and Deiner said the majority have been to fight suspected arson attacks.

"What we are seeing is that arsonists are starting small fires in fields‚ but so far we have had no reports of vineyards being set alight‚" Deiner said.

He said intermittent arson attempts were seen in the Grabouw area as well.

The N1 highway through De Doorns remained closed due to continued stone throwing.

During the first wave of agricultural strikes in November some vineyards were set alight by striking farm workers resulting in an estimated R100m in damages.

Meanwhile, Western Cape Education Department spokesman Bronagh Casey said initial reports of first day of the new school year had been incident free‚ but confirmed that the department was still waiting for full reports from the various districts.

About 970‚000 learners are expected to be enrolled in all grades in the Western Cape.

"So far we don't know of any incident relating to the strike that has stopped learners from going to school‚" she said.

In addition, Western Cape Health Department spokesman Hélène Rossouw confirmed that four clinics in the De Doorns area would remain closed until further notice.

The department closed the clinics because staff were being intimidated by striking workers. Rossouw said emergency medical services would still respond to calls‚ but out-patients would have to go to the Worcester hospital.


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