The National Veld and Forest Fire Act

Fires, especially uncontrolled run-away bush fires, are not only a risk to life, but also to property, the environment, businesses, livelihood, and even tourism.

Without preventative measures, bush, mountain and veld fires will continue to burn for as long as the weather is favourable and there is vegetation, killing and destroying everything in its wake.

In order to control the outbreak of veld, mountain and bush fires any person owning, or occupying land has a legal duty and responsibility to ensure that veld fires do not break out on their land. Furthermore, these individuals and businesses also have a legal obligation to ensure that any potential veld fire risk is managed, and that fire prevention controls are in place at all times.

In South Africa, the National Veld and Forest Fire Act seeks to regulate and control the management and prevention of fires. Adherence to the Act is imperative, because an insurance claim can be rejected if you are found in contravention thereof.

In a nutshell, the main focus areas of The National Veld and Forest Fire Act, 1998 (NVFFA) states:

1. Purpose of the Act

The purpose of the NVFFA is to encourage the development of fire management practices, which are aimed at preventing, combating and minimising veld, forest and mountain fires throughout South Africa.

2. Compulsory clauses

  • aPrevention of veld fires with firebreaks:
    The Act obligates every owner or occupier on whose land a veld fire may start or burn, or from whose land it may spread, to prepare and maintain a firebreak on his or her side of the boundary between his or her land and any adjoining land. The Minister may exempt for good reason any owner or group of owners or occupiers from the duty to prepare and maintain a firebreak or firebreaks, but must consult the fire protection association for the area, if any, before granting any exemption.
  • bConditions for firebreaks: Requirements for firebreaks

    The Act does not prescribe with regard to the width and length of a firebreak, but places liability on the owner to consider the weather, climate, terrain and vegetation of the area to determine the width of the fire break.

    An owner or occupier who prepares and maintains a firebreak must ensure that -

    • The fire break is wide enough and long enough to have a reasonable chance of preventing a veld fire from spreading to or from neighbouring land,
    • The fire break does not cause soil erosion, and
    • It is reasonably free of inflammable material capable of carrying a veld fire across it.
  • cReadiness for fire fighting

    Every owner or occupier on whose land a veld fire may start or burn or from whose land it may spread must -

    • Have sufficient fire-fighting equipment, protective clothing and trained personnel for fighting or extinguishing fires,
    • Ensure that in his or her absence duly appointed and informed responsible persons are present on or near his or her land who, in the event of fire, will be able to extinguish the fire or assist in doing so, and
    • Take all reasonable steps to alert the owners of adjoining land and the relevant fire protection association, if any.

3. Non-compulsory clauses

Presumption of negligence
This section of the Act allows the courts to presume negligence in cases of civil claims where someone has suffered a loss from a veld fire. The injured person, or claimant, must first prove that he or she has in fact suffered a loss before the court presumes negligence on the part of the person against whom the claim is laid, the defendant. The claimant must also prove that the defendant actually did wrong in causing the fire or allowing it to spread, that is, committed an offence under the Act. This presumption stands until the defendant is able to prove that he or she was not negligent. Presumption of negligence does not apply to members of Fire Protection Associations (FPAs).

Important:

  • From an insurance perspective, it is a condition on your Public Liability Section that you comply with The National Veld and Forest Fire Act, 1998.
  • It is not compulsory to belong to a Fire Protection Association in your area, however De Wet De Villiers Brokers strongly recommend it.
  • Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or require more information in this regard.

Sources:

Department of Tourism: Republic of South Africa
https://tkp.tourism.gov.za/Style%20Library/Toursim%20Compendium/Compendium%20Set%202/pdfs/national-tourism-phase2_national-veld-and-forest.pdf

Department of Water Affairs and Forestry: Republic of South Africa
https://www.daff.gov.za/doaDev/sideMenu/ForestryWeb/webapp/Documents/ForestFire/192.168.10.11/nvffa.html

South African Government
https://www.gov.za/documents/national-veld-and-forest-act