GFMC Correspondent Reportfrom Cape Town, South Africa 10 September 2001
Hell month thatshow my friend from Malawi described the smoke filled the September skies ofsouthern Africa. With a summer rainfall regime, winter is dry season over mostof southern Africa and fires begin occurring in July and peak in Septembercreating an area of free burning fires unrivalled on earth. Two consecutive years of abundant rains across the region have lead to an abovenormal accumulation of grasses and herbs which are now at very low moisturelevels due to a combination of frost, lack of rain and the baking late winterAfrican sun. This has created a potential for fires in areas that normally donot have the fuel load to support fire spread and increased the intensity offires in normally fire prone areas. Fires are viewed as a normal occurrence thistime of year in southern Africa and they mostly go unreported and ignoredregardless of any negative effects they may cause. However some fires turneddeadly and did get attention. On 5 September 2001, a fire in Kruger Park, South Africa killed 23 people.Nineteen local residents who had been hired to cut grass for thatch fled as thefire, fanned by high winds, advanced on their temporary camp and were trapped.Four game rangers died in an attempt to rescue them. The next day 20 people died in fires that raced through parts of KwaZulu-Natal,to the south. Six children were burnt to death insidea locked room, an 83-year-old woman died fleeing the flames, 55 cattle wereburnt along with 20 homesteads. Four others were killed as fire engulfed theircar. In Zimbabwe, where farm takeovers and land issues have caused strife fireappears to have been used a weapon in that conflict. A fire burnt through muchof the Matopo National Park near Bulawayo. Many animals in the park were killedand the effect of tourism has been severe. The fire was suspected to be set byself-styled war veterans in a attempt to sabotage the local safari business. There have also been reports of widespread fires in Botswana. However detailsare unavailable. Meanwhile hundreds if not thousands of other fires burn through the savannas andwoodlands of southern Africa as they always have. Back in Cape Town with itsMediterranean climate the winter still has a tight grip with gale force windsand drenching rains. Its cold and time to build a fire in the fire place.