Fires destroy swaths of land in S. Africa
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Wildfires sweeping across parts of eastern South Africa have killed at least 18 people and damaged thousands of acres of land, according to officials and news reports.Local Government Minister Sydney Mufamadi, flying over fire-ravaged areas in the eastern province of Mpumalanga, said damage was “quite extensive.”Officials estimate about 74,000 acres have been destroyed near the tourist towns of Sabie and Graskop. Four fires there were still burning out of control, the South African Press Association reported Monday.Meanwhile, heavy rain and flooding in the Western Cape damaged thousands of homes, affecting about 30,000 people, officials said. Clean-up operations have been under way since the worst of the rain ended Sunday, while the city’s disaster management services prepared for more heavy rain expected to hit the already flood-ravaged city next week.The Press Association said five firefighters in the province died Sunday when they could not get their vehicle away from the flames. Another 13 people died in fires which swept through parts of the east coast province of KwaZulu-Natal over the weekend.The fires have damaged power lines, sugar cane crops, timber plantations, and grazing areas. Thousands of cattle and sheep have been killed or euthanized after being burned.Fires have also caused extensive damage in the neighboring countries of Lesotho and heavily forested Swaziland, where 44,479 acres have been destroyed, the report said.High winds blowing over remote grasslands left dry from winter were thought to have caused the fires.Firefighting teams were brought in from around the country to battle the flames, but it was not clear when the fires would be extinguished.The government was considering declaring the hardest hit Mpumalanga province a disaster zone.