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Firebreaks are essential for safety

May 2021

Pietman Botha, Pula Imvula contributor. Send an email to pietmanbotha@gmail.com  

According to the Fire act, every landowner on whose land a veld fire can start and spread to adjacent land, has the responsibility to have a firebreak on his side of the boundary fence. The act clearly states that a firebreak must be free of any combustible material. 

In some districts fire management associations have rules that will help with firebreaks. Some associations will have their own rules for firebreaks.

The real purpose of a firebreak is to have a place where a back-burn fire can be started. This is the best way to fight a wildfire. This back-burn action must only be done under the control of an experienced firefighter, with enough farmers and firefighters as support. 

The firebreak must be wide enough to have a reasonable chance of preventing a veld fire from spreading beyond your property. A firebreak made with a slasher is not allowed, as the fire can still creep over it. 

If the grass on either side of the firebreak is 1 m high, the firebreak must be at least 3 m wide. If there are 2 m high bushes on either side, the firebreak must be 6 m wide. 


  • Inform all the neighbours that you are going to make firebreaks. Keep them and their workers informed throughout the process.
  • Make sure that the climatic conditions are suitable to make firebreaks, especially if firebreaks are going to be burned. 
  • Make sure that all equipment used to make a firebreak is serviced and in a good working order.
  • Ensure that every worker understands his duties and knows what to do in the case of a breakdown on the firefighter equipment or an unexpected wind change. There must always be a plan in place if something goes wrong.
  • Make sure that all workers use protective gear when the firebreak is burned.
  • A firebreak can be cleaned with a controlled fire with the assistance of fire-fighting personnel. The biggest advantage of these firebreaks is that it starts to go green as early as August, while the veld grass is still flammable.
  • A firebreak can be graded with a rear-mounted or self-propelled grader. Make sure that all plant material is cleared from the firebreak. This way the grass will sprout before the veld and make a better firebreak.
  • A firebreak can also be made by an offset disc. The offset disc will cut the plant material in the soil; and this way is easy and works well. However, the downside is that because the soil is disturbed, weeds will grow and the grass roots will die. Soil erosion can also occur.
  • A firebreak can be sprayed with herbicide to die earlier in the season. Then this dead material can be burned before the surrounded plants are dead.
  • Established fire lanes can be towed regularly throughout the year, with a group of heavy-load trucks, tractors or big front-end loader tyres.
  • Remember to keep your neighbours informed of your actions and to be on time with the firebreaks.

For more information, contact your local fire management association. 

Publication: May 2021

Section: Pula/Imvula