A large portion of the Cape Peninsula mountain range was devastated by wildfire during January 2000, which included some parts that were seriously alien weed problems occurred. Some properties bordering Fynbos areas suffered serious fire damage, and a number of houses completely burned out. It was soon realised that existing fire protection measures (burned, ploughed or hand-prepared fire breaks) could not contain the fires, and that a re-think will be necessary regarding regional fire protection, with all its implications.
The Peninsula’s nature conservation, forestry and parks divisions are being controlled by various government, semi-government and private bodies. The overall nature conservation control of most of these areas has recently been placed under the National Parks Board organisation, but a regional strategy regarding integrated fire protection has not yet been implemented, and it is suggested that the time is now ripe to draw up proposals for a fresh fire protection approach.
First of all It is important that we make sure that we obtain a clear picture of the situation on the ground regarding areas burned, age, structure, and dynamics of the natural vegetation, industrial timber plantations and agricultural land, as well as spread of weeds. Only after this evaluation phase can concrete planning start in earnest. During this so-called Regional Appreciation Phase the following is suggested that should be addressed:
Mapping Fire History
The perimeter of all wildfires that occurred between 1995 and February 2000 must be mapped at a 1:20,000 scale, with the assistance of aerial photography and satellite images. The remainder of the area will have to be classified according to vegetation age and degree of weed infestation. The outcome of this exercise will be in the form of a regional map which will feature wildfire history, vegetation classes and existing fire breaks.
Classifying fire hazard categories
The regional map (referred to in the above paragraph) will also have two map overlays which will illustrate external and internal fire hazard. These hazard classes will be developed from a fuel modelling-based classification, which will use a representative fuel classification and external fire hazard features combined, to arrive at a fire hazard classification for both the present (actual) and future (predicted) fire hazard status.
Thereafter, during the Application Phase, the following programme will be implemented:
Placing of regional bufferzones
Fuel and wildfire modelling will be used to identify and quantify fire break requirements, and a regional bufferzoning structure will have to be developed to replace outdated and inadequate, existing, fire breaks. The fire hazard evaluation over time (also considering future fuel dynamics) will be used to assist in this decision-making process, and these fire buffers will in many cases follow existing strategic protective lines (e.g. public roads, powerlines and other relatively fuel-free areas) over the most suitable topography and land-use areas. These bufferzones will form the main lines of fire protection, and have proved extremely effective in the Mpumalanga Highveld, Northern Kwazulu-Natal Midlands and NE Cape regions (de Ronde, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999). Prescribed burning rotations will have to be considered in most Fynbos found within these zones, as well as inside timber plantations.
Integrating riparian zone management and ecological requirements
The integration of these aspects, as part of an integrated fire protection strategy, will form an important part of the new plan. Sustained water flow will be a priority objective, and in many cases riparian zones can be utilised as part of bufferzoning systems. This will ensure regular rotation burning, which will facilitate maximum water flow requirements. All prescribed burning recommendations will be tested against optimum fire rotations to maintain biodiversity (particularly in Fynbos). The regional bufferzones will be demarcated in such a way that ecologically-sensitive parts of the area are avoided, so that these can still receive their optimum fire treatment in terms of age, season-of-burn and fire intensity applied.
Adapting weed control programmes
As wildfires occur, the weed control programme will have to be adjusted accordingly. Special attention will have to be provided for burned-over areas with heavy weed infestation, to control regeneration after the ash-bed effect in time. The fuel problems created as a result of weed slashing may also have to be attended to by means of special controlled burns before all fuel is cured, to avoid fire of a too high intensity. Timing of these prescribed burns will be crucial, and these prescribed burns will have to be applied by experienced, well-trained fire managers.
Addressing urban interface problems
These will have to be attended to in various ways, as a matter of urgency. To little has been done to avoid and overcome this problem by the local authorities in terms of legislation and public awareness campaigns, and the improvement of hot spots on the outskirts of urban areas will have to receive immediate priority attention.
A holistic approach to the fire protection problems of the Cape Peninsula is the only way in which the spiral of wildfires can be challenged. Specialist training will be required to maintain the new strategic fuel management and fire protection goals, and nature conservators, parks officials and foresters involved in the regional plan. Training courses in fire behaviour prediction, prescribed burning application, smoke management, and the education of the public at large (extension), will be required.
Cornelius “Neels” De Ronde SILVA Forest Services du Toit Street 16 P.O.Box 612 7280 Bredasdorp SOUTH AFRICA