BY PRESTIGE MUNTANGA
GOVERNMENT has described the underground seam fires in Hwange, Matabeleland North province as a ticking ‘atomic’ bomb after a picture of one of the smouldering fires that cracked wide open a tarred road went viral.
The picture showed the danger facing motorists, residents and wild animals.
On Tuesday, a coal fire cut through the road that links Number Two (Madumabisa village) and Number Three (Makwika village) Hwange Colliery Company (HCC) concession areas.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba said the incident was worrying and urged the colliery to act.
“Major disaster looming. I am told this is right in the middle of the road linking Number Three in Hwange.
“This is similar to walking over a ticking atomic bomb.
“Hwange Colliery Company must act now,” Charamba tweeted on Wednesday after the picture went viral.
Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs and Devolution minister Richard Moyo said: “I will get in touch with the environmental management department and assign it to investigate the damage so that we can know how to solve the disaster.”
HCC public relations manager Beauty Mutombe confirmed the incident.
“It is true that an underground fire broke out and destroyed roads.
“We will soon be releasing a statement for the benefit of the media and citizens,” Mutombe said.
Farai Maguwu, co-ordinator of the Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG), which has been documenting several cases of villagers, in particular children, being burnt by underground coal fires said that was an emergency.
“We have constantly raised alarm about the raging coal fires in Hwange that are destroying lives.
“Government and the mining companies must act before a massive tragedy happens,” Maguwu said.
On November 8 this year, 8-year-old girl Alisha Muzvite suffered serious burns and had to be taken to Bulawayo’s Mpilo Central Hospital for medical attention after she was burnt by the fires.
A coal seam fire is an underground burning coal fire.
It can burn for decades and can self-ignite through spontaneous combustion.
Because of lack of oxygen, it usually smoulders unnoticed until the ground opens.