OM responds to Free State devastating wildfires

Johannesburg - Old Mutual has provided ten diesel tank trailers to help fight fires devastating the heart of South Africa’s agricultural economy. Wildfires spread quickly during the dry winter months and cause major damage every year. The trailers built by local Johannesburg business Trailers & Tankers are worth more than R300 000 and will be towed from Johannesburg to Bloemfontein by Old Mutual Insure employees using their own 4x4 bakkies on Saturday, 14 November 2020. These diesel trailers are also equipped with pumps, brand meters, aluminium nozzles, diesel filters, fire extinguishers and spare wheels, and will be handed over to Agri Free State who will manage their distribution to strategically located points in the most fire-prone areas of the Free State. 

Fires devastate food basket 

Recent devastating fires in the Northern Cape and western Free State have highlighted the urgent need for easily accessible and strengthened fire-fighting equipment in rural areas. The recent fires destroyed over 100 000 hectares across 100 commercial farms as well as a currently unspecific number of smallholder operations. While satellite data is yet to confirm final numbers, initial estimates are that approximately 2000 head of livestock have been lost and extensive worker accommodation and other strategic infrastructure destroyed. One farm lost R900 000 in livestock and R3 million in assets alone. Once the financial impact on individual commercial and smallholder farmers is assessed this devastating blow to the heart of South Africa’s rural economy will be fully calculated. 

Fighting the fire over an extremely broad front meant that firefighters regularly ran out of diesel. “By the time firefighters returned to the blaze after driving to the closest refuelling station the fire had already done its damage,” said Antonia Oakes, Head of Customer Experience and Responsible Business at Old Mutual Insure.

Upon engaging with Free State Agriculture, Old Mutual Insure learned that locating diesel tanks at centrally accessible infrastructure nodes throughout high-risk fire zones could, “significantly increase the ability of fire-fighting teams to manage blazes effectively – especially at the onset before fires became unmanageable,” explained Oakes. 

Trailer handover 

On 14 November Old Mutual Insure will hand over the diesel trailers to Agri Free State who will manage the distribution, operation and maintenance of these ten trailers across the most high-risk districts on behalf of Free State Agriculture. “Old Mutual Insure will be handing over the trailers with a full 1000 litres of diesel in each tank,” added Oakes. While veld fires are part of the standard risk landscape in South African agriculture, fuel loads and strong winds can result in fires spreading rapidly.

Helping secure a strategic economic sector 

Agriculture is a core pillar of the South African economy and a major employer. It is also a strategic asset for the country as food security is central to social stability. “South Africa’s ability to continue to feed itself even during Covid-19 lockdown where many other country’s faced food supply disruptions and in many cases extreme food shortages demonstrates the importance of this sector to every South African,” added Oakes. 

Old Mutual Insure’s decision to respond to the call for help from Free State Agriculture, “speaks to our commitment to shared value,” said Oakes. By caring for all the communities that Old Mutual Insure serves, the business delivers on its 175-year old purpose to preserve and grow prosperity across the generations. 

“This intervention reduces our own risk exposure in an economic segment, so critical to the growth and future of general prosperity in South Africa. Finally, the reduction of the burning of carbon-based materials is a key pillar of our commitment to slowing climate change through responsible environmental management,” concluded Oakes.

 

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