INTERPRETING CHAPTER 2 OF THE ACT (Extract from Guide to the interpretation and implementation of the National Veld and Forest Fire Act, 1998)
Interpreting Chapter 2: Fire protection associations: Introduction
67. The Act provides for fire protection associations as bodies that will replace the fire control committees established in terms of the Forest Act of 1984. This is because (a) fire control committees though successful in certain areas in the country, could not be established in many places where they were needed because of the perceived administrative burden attached to maintaining them, and (b) of the need to comply with the right to freedom of association, that is, to create a supporting environment for voluntary formation of the institutions needed to collaborate locally in preventing and controlling veldfires.
68. The Act provides for FPAs for two reasons: (a) veldfires often become emergencies because they threaten life and assets on the property where they have started, or when they spread, or threaten to spread, beyond the boundaries of any one property, and (b) require co-operation to manage the conditions that determine their occurrence, to prevent and control veldfires, and to use controlled burning for environmental and other purposes. Effective management of veld-fires requires organisational structure, strategy, plans, information, networks, skills, and equipment that can seldom be provided adequately by any one landowner alone. Also, government cannot take on the duties and responsibilities of landowners for fire protection. The Act places this responsibility on the owner, where it belongs (Chapters 4 and 5). The Act intends that FPAs should be voluntary, not only because of the right to freedom of association, but also because landowners themselves need to make firm commitments to co-operation by their own joint initiatives. On the other hand, this provision in the Act does place a duty on government to effectively promote and support FPAs, including financially where this is justified.
69. FPAs are thus community-based natural resource management organisations for the collective management of veldfires, using local knowledge within the framework provided by the Act.
70. Membership of an FPA brings several advantages, directly to the member as well as through the capabilities of the FPA itself. These include:
a) no presumption of negligence in civil claims for damage where a fire from the member's land causes damage or loss to another person (section 34(1)(b) of the Act)
71. There will be costs involved in forming a FPA, even if only the costs of the time needed for meetings. The Act also requires FPAs to report to the Minister on fire statistics and to provide the information required to prepare or maintain the National Fire Danger Rating System (NFRDS) (Section 5(1)(i) and (j)), though even this reporting is intended to be no more than what the FPA would need to do for its own good governance. The Act does not intend that FPAs should be formed in cases where its costs are greater than the benefits it provides its members. FPAs should be cost-beneficial and therefore established in areas where the risk of veldfires justifies the benefits of the costs of organising and maintaining the Association. The justifiable level of risk must be judged locally.
b) the benefits of co-operation in preventing and combating veldfires through the institution of the FPA, within the framework of an agreed veldfire management strategy
c) the cost saving that comes from avoiding duplication with for example disaster management plans and agricultural conservation programmes
d) the protection that comes from the enforceable rules of the association, as established in its constitution
e) advice and assistance to members in meeting the statutory requirements for readiness for fire fighting, including skills development
f) the empowerment of FPOs to enforce the provisions of the Act and the rules of the association
g) improved communication among members about, for example, fire hazard conditions
h) free access to research commissioned by the Minister on the prevention and combating of veldfires and on the use of controlled fire in sustainable forest management (Section 30(2))
i) possible relief from certain prevention measures, such as preparation of firebreaks, depending on the contents of the association's veldfire management strategy
j) the overall benefits of progressive building of capacity within the Association and thus among its members, with overall reduction in the risks of veldfires.