Veld Fires

Author: Maizy Burger

I still cannot believe I am living on a farm. My husband and I retired on a smallholding after living in town for thirty eight years. This smallholding I call my farm. It consists of a few acres and if you compare it with the small town stand we lived on, it is huge and more like a farm.

Winter is crawling in slowly but surely and the smell of burning veld is the first sign of winter approaching. You can smell the smoke of veld fires and you taste the burning on your lips, like ash and the smell in your nostrils, burns your throat and tongue. The putrid smell hangs in the air. There is no wind to blow it away. The evenings are quiet and cool but the days are still sweltering hot.

Every evening you see the orange glow of the veld fires in the distance coming closer and closer and the fear and concern in your heart grows heavier. The veld burns closer to your farm as winter draws nearer. The smell of smoke and the flames become more visible until it is your turn. The phone rings… It is the people living across the road…

“Sorry to bother you, but do you know there is a fire raging towards your farm?” The voice says.

“No I did not, but we will have a look and see. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.” I say.

“Let me know if you need any help.” The voice replies.

“I will. Thank you.” I say and turn to face my husband who is already running towards the back door. With my heart pounding I follow him.

It is our neighbour’s veld that is on fire and we dash to help with our slappers in hand, slapping at the fire trying to prevent it from entering our own property where we have livestock to protect. The scorching heat of the flames is unbearable. You run in and slap at the flames, inhaling smoke that burns in your nostrils and your lungs feel on fire. Your eyes burn, you cannot see and tears run down your face. It feels as though your skin is on fire. You slap until your arms are tired and lame and you cannot stand the heat any longer. Breathless you run away from the flames, gasping for air. In the distance you try to cool down and rest, while the next person runs to the fire and starts slapping and goes through the same ordeal until he cannot bear it any longer and backs off to safety. Then it is your turn again and you run in and slap for dear life and so you carry on making turns trying to kill the flames and keeping it from destroying everything.

We manage to steer the fire away from all the living quarters and it veers to the back of the farm where the Bluegum trees grow. The flames leap high into the trees and reach for the sky like red scraping fingers trying to pull down something out of the sky. The heat is so intense you cannot get close and you stand there, looking on, helplessly, not able to do anything to save the trees. The scorching flames leap from tree to tree. The burning Bluegum leaves crack and shoot specks of burning stars high into the air and down into the adjacent veld igniting the dry grass in the next farm.

From all sides, out of the dark, people appear like ghosts with their slappers, saying nothing, quietly doing what has to be done at that moment, which is trying to kill the devastating veld fire, roaring and demolishing everything in its wake. The ghosts move slowing towards the raging fire and slap and slap. People move in and out of the flames. Every now and then you hear a faint coughing sound of someone choking.

The flames jump yet another fence and into the adjacent farm where dark figures wait in anticipation with their slappers --- ready to defend what belongs to them. The orange glare of the fire shines like a huge torch and illuminates the shadows in the distance --- it is now their turn to take over.

Eventually the veld fire and the ghosts disappear and you stand on the blackened burnt veld with the foul smell of smoke still in your nostrils. The soles of your shoes have melted, whilst stepping on the hot burnt grass stubbles and smells of burning rubber.

Tired, dirty and wet with perspiration, your face and arms black with soot and ash, you slowly drop down to the ground and sit and look at one another, speechless. It becomes dark and cold and you wearily lift your tired and sweaty body and walk home, feeling nauseous… not only because of the exertion but a feeling of desperation… Was this veld fire really necessary?

Why do careless people light the veld? People who have nothing… nothing to defend… nothing to lose…Why do they light the veld? Do they not understand the grief and devastation they cause to the veld, the trees, and the tiny creatures living in the veld? Or do they just not care?

Once, whilst defending our farm from a devastating veld fire, a rat jumped out of his hole right in front of me. He ran towards me and stood looking straight into my eyes as though he was begging for help. His little body was shaking and shivering. I stood there for a moment staring back at him. I could have reached and picked him up; he was that close to me. He was begging with is eyes shining so bright as though he had tears in them. I was so sorry for him. The flames came closer and he scurried away.

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  • Reviewed by marta  on  May 12th, 2011

    this is a emotional story, mainly the weakness the suffering of animals.

  • Reviewed by Ben  on  May 14th, 2011

    That was a fascinating account of a real life trauma. Please keep on writing.

  • Reviewed by 1  on  June 3rd, 2013


  • Reviewed by 1  on  June 3rd, 2013


  • Reviewed by -1'  on  June 3rd, 2013


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