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Hwange Underground Fires Get Out Of Control


By Sikumbuzo Nyoni

Subsurface fires which are commonly referred to as underground fires continue to haunt residents and animals of Hwange town as the situation continues to get out of hand with no immediate solution in sight.
The situation has been compounded by the summer heat. People and livestock are being burnt daily especially those who reside in the Madumabisa area.
The residents are questioning the investigations done by a German company which was contracted by HCCL to update the community on the findings of the subsurface fires.
Nkosikhona Sibanda the Deputy Director of the Hwange based environmental organisation, Green Shango Trust says the HCCL needs to be transparent when it comes to the issue of subsurface fires.
“We were told that a German Company is carrying out scientific research on the extent and intensity of subsurface fires, its concentration, its distribution and come up with updated heat map and also measures on how they can be dealt with and how measures can be taken to ensure that the community is safe from these subsurface fires.
“But what is worrying us is that, the Colliery is secretive around this issue. We do not even know the exact name of the company because we have not even seen the reports. So are they hiding the information from the public we wonder? We have been following up on this report but they do not want to release it. This is information that affects and impacts the general public.”
Subsurface starts from overdrawing a gas collection system or spontaneous combustion. These fires are more likely to burn slowly without visible flame or large quantities of smoke and are characterised by rapid oxidation of an organic waste. These fires can burn between the surface and one foot below ground.
Sibanda said subsurface fires is an environmental case which needs serious attention.
“The issue of subsurface fires is something that I have experienced firsthand. I come from a community where I have seen victims of subsurface fires. I have seen a young girl who died from subsurface fires; we have seen a young boy who has been amputated because of these subsurface fires. We have seen quite recently a boy who had a near miss and escaped with some burns on his feet because of subsurface fires. It’s an issue that brings some mixed feelings.”
“Colliery can dilly-dally and hide as long as we do not know how the subsurface fires can be dealt with. They will always tell you in America there are still subsurface areas that they are still struggling with.
“But if you do some researches you will realise that those companies that are responsible are doing whatever they can to help reduce the impact of the fires including relocating people from hot spots. So I think the colliery should release that document or at least appraise the public on areas that concern them so that we can all fully appreciate what is exactly happening around those subsurface fires issue,” Sibanda said.
Meanwhile residents are accusing Hwange Colliery Company for not taking enough responsibility when it comes to subsurface fires.
“They are the main perpetrator as they are filing to extinguish or to at least barricade areas were subsurface fires are concentrated. Well they might argue that the subsurface fires are sparsely distributed they are not concentrated in one place making it difficult to barricade as they may not know the exact hot spots are.
“But I think they should take more responsibility for example if someone burns from subsurface fires the least they can do is to take responsibility and foot medical bills for that person,” said one resident.
Addressing stakeholders during a National Environmental Plan, the environmental officer from HCCL said the company was trying its best to map the visibility of the subsurface fires.

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