‘Arson’ huge headache in Free State


Arson cannot be ruled out as a cause when it comes to the numerous fires that wreaked havoc in the Free State during the past fire season.

Monte Pienaar, a farmer from Theunissen, says farmers in the area have a video that shows how a fire is started in this area. However, this is not the only incident where farmers believe they have evidence of arson. Suspicious vehicles are also successfully spotted using camera footage in some cases.

‚ÄúThis is a big problem in our area. The motive behind it is not known. I don’t understand how anyone would want to do something like that,” Pienaar tells RNews.

On Thursday evening, fires raged in four places along the tarmac road between Bultfontein and Bloemfontein and in three places between Theunissen and Welkom.

“It is difficult to say with certainty which fires were actually started. I suspect it could be arson, because there was no weather in the air and it wasn’t an Eskom cable or a car that made a spark either.”

However, the FF Plus directly attributed the cause of these fires to arson.

Jan van Niekerk, provincial leader of the FF Plus, last weekend called on the Free State police commissioner, Lt. Gen. Baile Motswenyane, done to use all possible resources to track down the perpetrators.

“Farmers and their workers must put their lives and property at risk to put out fires in extremely dangerous conditions,” Van Niekerk said.

Thanks to the quick response of farmers, these fires were extinguished the same evening.

“The farmers are ready and drive around with fire hoses on their vans. As soon as the control room informs them of a blaze, they immediately go with the fire hoses to extinguish the flames,” says Pienaar.

Pienaar also confirms that he knows of farmers in the area who have already filed cases of arson with the police. He plans to file a complaint with the police on Tuesday as well.

According to the farmer, the modus operandi of the alleged arsonists is as follows:

“The suspects drive in one direction and then stop to set fire to a piece of field. They then drive on and set a piece of field on fire again. It also mostly happens at night when the farmers are sleeping.

“The suspects usually take a candle, light it, put it in a brown paper bag and then place it in the field. The bag prevents the wind from blowing out the candle’s flame. The candle then burns out and consequently sets the grass on fire.”

Pienaar warns people to be aware of these suspicious vehicles and people.

“Sometimes the suspects pretend their cars’ engines have broken down and then stand on the side of the road with an open bonnet. Or they will stand on the side of the road and knock down water.

“Members of the public must help to be the farmers’ eyes and ears, because the farmers cannot take on this fight alone.”

Around 110,000 ha have already burned since July in the vicinity of Theunissen, Bultfontein, Winburg, Senekal, Brandfort and Verkerdevlei. Deaths have already been reported among more than 1,000 livestock and damage to infrastructure is costing farmers an enormous amount of money, says Pienaar.

“The farmers try to keep their animals alive, but the stress of the fires is sometimes just too much.”

Regarding infrastructure damage, farmers reported that tanks, plastic pipes, troughs, fences and even tractors and implements were left in the blaze. Pienaar is aware of a farmer whose storeroom full of fodder burned down.

RNews has made an inquiry to the provincial police in the Free State, but is still waiting for a response. The comments will be updated as soon as they are received.