South Africa — Wild fires in the Western Cape’s protected areas have increased this year by 40 percent compared with last year – and the fire season is far from over.
From September last year to Sunday there were 74 fires in the protected areas under CapeNature’s control, some of them widespread blazes which raged for days.
In the same period last year there were 52.
In Table Mountain National Park there have been 36 fires since the first one broke out at the end of October, which have destroyed around 1 500ha of bush and veld in the park.
‘The increase in fires appears to be a very definite trend’ The increase in fires comes as the province is losing fire-fighting resources because of under-funding.
Lack of resources has meant CapeNature was able to do only 11 of the 97 controlled burns they should have done last year. They had also not been able to burn all the necessary fire breaks.
The number of hectares destroyed by fire in CapeNature’s protected areas has not been calculated yet, but they have burnt vast tracts of fynbos veld in the province’s water catchment regions.
More frequent fires mean an increase in young fynbos vegetation, which has proved to be less effective than older fynbos in “trapping” water to filter into the province’s rivers and dams to supply cities and towns.
Thus the fires mean less water for an already water-stressed province.
Zane Erasmus, programme manager for fire for CapeNature, said on Sunday: “The increase in fires appears to be a very definite trend. There’s been an increase in the number of fires, the frequency and the area that has been burnt.
“The 74 fires occurred in our protected areas or on the borders of them. It’s hard to say why there has been an increase. Usually the cause of about 50 percent of all fires is unknown.
Lightning is responsible for about 17 percent to 20 percent. There are very few caused by arson.
Usually it is a case of simple negligence, people lighting fires in places and in weather conditions in which they shouldn’t light them,” he said.
The SA Weather Service predicts late rains this winter, which means the fire season may extend well into April.
The weather service calculates the fire danger – which is colour-coded according to risk – for each region. On red days, the highest risk, all fires are prohibited.
However, the regulations, under the National Veld and Forest Fire Act administered by water affairs and forestry, have not been promulgated for each region and so cannot be enforced.
On Sunday regional director of water affairs and forestry, Rashid Khan, said that he would investigate.
The Botanical Society’s flora conservation unit has been critical of of the fact that CapeNature has to look after all the mountains that produce the province’s water – including clearing aliens and fighting fire – yet it receives not a cent from water sales.