Since the devastating fires that ravaged our area over the last couple of weeks there has been much talk about the person who was arrested on suspicion of starting the fire in Betty’s Bay by discharging a flare.

Lettie Botha from Northcliff sent The Village NEWS this striking photo of the ChillGuru tour bus taken at the viewpoint on Rotary Drive. “The irony of the contrast between the joyful, bright-blue tourist bus and the ashen, scourged fynbos landscape caught my attention,” she said.

Apart from the enormous cost to fight the fire, damage of millions of Rands was caused to houses, vehicles and other property. If one adds all of this up it is certain that no-one would be able to repay that amount.

This leads us to the question of what an appropriate sentence would be for someone who is found guilty of something like this? No amount of money would ever be enough to make up for the physical and emotional damage. Besides, is repaying even a fraction of the cost or a prison sentence really an appropriate punishment?

Some media reports have stated that if the man who is in custody were to be found guilty, he can spend up to 10 years in prison. On the surface one can argue that this would be fair and just and should serve as a deterrent to others who might contemplate discharging a flare as part of a celebration of any kind.

I concur that a stiff prison sentence will be the way to go, especially after seeing videos on social media of people near Paarl lighting candles in the fynbos and leaving them there to ignite a fire after a time delay that allows them to get away. This kind a flagrant arson, no matter what the motivation, needs to punished in the harshest way possible.

But I am unsure whether this on its own is enough. We must look further than just punishment in this case. As the New Year started, I stood on my verandah overlooking town and saw and heard not only thousands of firecrackers being discharged but also saw several bright red flares floating overhead. This, despite the various warnings by the municipality that this was against the law. From this it is evident that there are many people who do not take this bylaw seriously.

To bring the message home, and to prevent a repeat of what happened this year, I think more needs to be done to take steps against all who are guilty of transgressing the law. I have not once heard or read anything about someone who has been arrested or fined for setting off fireworks in our area.

I know it is hard to police this kind of thing, but if you start with those selling fireworks and ask members of the public to identify those responsible for setting off firecrackers, it will be a step in the right direction. Those thinking of participating in these activities will then think twice if they know that they will be fined or imprisoned. At the moment there are nothing but warnings to deter people.

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