Ten people were confirmed dead and at least five others were treated for smoke inhalation at a farm in Esigodini, Matabeleland South, on Monday while battling to put out a veld fire, the environmental agency said.
Police were called to a farm known as Lot 43 of Essexvale, near Falcon College, after reports of multiple people succumbing to an out-of-control veld fire.
When the smoke cleared, 10 bodies – most of them of farm workers – were recovered. Five others who took part in efforts to contain the blaze survived and were taken to hospital as a precaution.
Descent Ndlovu, the regional manager of the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), said he was travelling to the scene after getting a call while he was in Gwanda.
“I understand from our people on the ground that there’re lives that have been lost and I’m distressed by the situation. What I understand is that there are 10 deaths,” Ndlovu said.
The veld fire, witnesses said, started during strong winds sometime in the morning and the farm’s owner Abel Moyo enlisted the help of his farm workers and others from surrounding farms to put out the fire.
“One by one, they began getting disoriented from smoke inhalation and they died. It’s such a sad situation, they were only trying to help,” said one villager who knew all the dead by name.
In sombre scenes, villagers watched as police placed the bodies in black body bags before loading them onto a police van.
Temperatures have been soaring around Zimbabwe with regular fire warnings by EMA and the Meteorological Services Department.
In a weather forecast on Sunday, the Met said: “Strong winds increase the occurrence of veldt fires. Put out any fires found in open veld and road-sides. Do not leave any fire unattended.”