THE fires are for all intents and purposes out, NCT posted on a video update this morning, October 11. The timber marketing co-operative has posted daily updates of the devastating fires which consumed towering stockpiles of product since October 6, the sixth day of the fire.
“Damage and forensic assessments are likely to commence this week. As the smoke begins to clear, however, we do take heart in the fact that there are likely salvageable facilities and equipment. Come what may however, a rebuild is a definite and already the NCT team is raring to start this process!” the company said on Monday, October 9.
In a TV interview with Newzroom Afrika, NCT general manager, Danny Knoesen, said the R3,5 billion company earns most of its revenue from exports and that the losses from the fires would run into billions. He said it would take at least six to eight months before the Richards Bay facility would be able to export again.
According to Knoesen: “At around midday on September 30, our staff at NCT Richards Bay Wood Chips were alerted to a fire on one of our wood chip piles. Our staff immediately attended to the fire, but due to gale force winds and hot weather conditions the fire spread quickly.”
“We made every attempt to call in air support, but the conditions were too dangerous. Our firefighting team on the ground made every effort to subdue the fire throughout the day and night. We are grateful for the support we received from the Municipality and other organisations, but the weather conditions have not been in our favour,” Knoesen said on October 1.
The City of uMhlathuze Fire Services said that it engaged in firefighting operations and received invaluable assistance from various partners, including Mondi, Transnet, South 32, RBM, and other private companies.
City of uMhlathuze’s Bongani Gina said: “The weather conditions on that [first] day posed significant challenges, with temperatures soaring to an estimated 39oC. The situation became increasingly complex as the wind speed intensified and shifted to a northerly direction, providing additional fuel to the fire. At one point, wooden chip sparks were carried over John Ross Highway, igniting the green belt opposite the highway and the neighbouring residential area of Arboretum, via Cassandra, raising concerns for nearby residents.”
Gina said teams were swiftly dispatched to different areas of Arboretum. By approximately 20:29, the fire around the residential area was successfully brought under control, with no reported loss of property or lives.
Mayor Xolani Ngwezi of the City of uMhlathuze extended his “heartfelt gratitude to all the firefighters and the citizens of Richards Bay who rallied together to form an indomitable team to combat this uncontrollable blaze”.
On Monday, October 9, NCT reported that “a significant semblance of order and control over the fire is now being felt on site.”
“First of all, the protective measures taken to ensure the safety of the TWK, and other neighbours have paid off.
“The bombers constantly kept the TWK chip pile wet and ground crews gradually worked away at the burning BayFibre wattle chip pile to create as wide a safety break between TWK and NCT as heat, wind direction and safety factors would allow.”
NCT said that local businesses continued to rally in support, for which it is immensely grateful.
“Assistance continued to be rendered in the form of high-pressure water pump and pipe extensions, diesel supply, a cherry picker, earth-moving equipment, portable lighting – in fact the list is too long to do it justice. As for the selfless donations of food, pharmaceuticals, coffee, and much, much more, words simply do not suffice to express the firefighters’ gratitude,” NCT said.
On Monday, the cherry picker operators were removing sheets of burnt zinc from the stacker above the BayFibre wattle pile. These zinc sheets, or parts thereof, pose high risk to ground crews, hence their removal as a safety measure. Heavy earth-moving equipment was systematically being used to dig away at the smouldering wood pile to spread the chip material and cool it down with strategically deployed water tankers.
On Monday, the Richards Bay Wood Chips gum chip pile was being closely monitored and allowed to burn as its location posed no danger to the surrounds.
NCT said that no reports of injury had been received from the site or local medical facilities. “We are really proud of this achievement and offer full credit to the awareness and sense of responsibility embraced by the fire crews and other personnel,” the company said.