DEA warns the public to be vigilant as fire season continues

23 January 2019

 

The Department of Environmental Affairs’ (DEA) Working on Fire programme, has deployed close to 300 fire-fighters and pilots to help manage fires across South Africa. They have been hard at work over the past few weeks as the fire-fighters were busy fighting four major fires in the Overberg District of the Western Cape.

In total these fires caused partial destruction / damage to 28 structures and 41 structures were completely destroyed, the estimated value is still being evaluated.

The Department would like to urge communities to be more vigilant during this fire season and not to start unnecessary fires, particularly during windy days this summer. Communities are also asked to remove unnecessary rubble on their properties which can pose a serious fire risk, and houses next to grasslands need to ensure that there is sufficient fire breaks between their properties and these grasslands.

We also request people to cut down overhanging tree branches close to their properties and to clean their gutters as the leaves that end up in these gutters can also pose a fire risk. People must also ensure that they have the contact details of their local fire authorities at hand should there be a fire emergency.

Extra Care must be taken to ensure that landowners clear all invasive alien vegetation which continues to pose significant fire risks in these dry conditions in the Western Cape. These invasive plants burn at a very high temperature and when fuelled by strong winds and hot weather conditions can cause significant ecological damage for years to come, which can prevent regrowth of the natural indigenous vegetation.

The Working on Fire programme in the Western Cape has 700 fire-fighters stationed at 27 bases available to provide support to provincial, district and local fire authorities and a further 500 fire-fighters on national standby to be deployed to the Western Cape, should there be a need. Currently about 100 fire-fighters from the Free State have already been deployed in the Western Cape since December 2018, and a further 49 Fire-fighters from other Provinces assisting in the Table Mountain National Park.

Vegetation Type Burnt – Kogelberg Nature Reserve / Betty’s Bay (CapeNature)

Ecological Impact of Current Fires:

Kogelberg Sandstone Fynbos (critically endangered vegetation type) is considered the heart of the Cape Floristic Region and is famed for the richness of the flora as well as many rare and endangered species including the famous march rose. Most of the critically endangered vegetation burnt falls within the Kogelberg Nature Reserve.

Fynbos is a fire-adapted vegetation and is dependent on appropriate fires for its survival. Fire drives this cycle, and at appropriate intervals it stimulates re-sprouting and seedling recruitment which leads to better species diversity.

An increase in fire frequency causes the structure and composition of fynbos to change and subsequently the potential loss of species. The ideal fire frequency in the Kogelberg Nature Reserve Complex is 17 years. The vegetation that burned thus far varied from 8 to 12 years old.

The Boland Mountain Complex is classified as a strategic water source area, it provides good quality water for the Cape Metropolitan Area. Intense and too many frequent fires can decrease the rate of infiltration by destroying the litter and organic layers in the soil resulting in run-off and less water entering the dams.

The biggest threat is that the wildfires stimulate the germination of the seeds of invasive alien plants in the area.  A lightly invaded area can turn into a densely invaded wasteland, which will further lead to even more intense fires in years to come. The additional impacts on biological diversity, water security, soil erosion, the productive use of land (e.g. grazing) and other impacts are well documented. The cost to clear the invasive plants can escalate dramatically as a result.  Often this is the biggest long-term costs of wild fires.

For media inquiries contact:

Zolile Nqayi
Cell: 082 898 6483 / znqayi@environment.gov.za