Cape Town, South Africa — Three-quarters of Rietvlei Nature Reserve, which is home to hundreds of species of animals and birds, was destroyed by a veld fire on Thursday.
The grass fire, apparently accidentally started by Eskom technicians, reduced large swathes of the reserve to ashen fields. It is one of the world’s largest urban nature reserves with thousands of hectares of open grasslands.
Black clouds of smoke could be seen for kilometres around Pretoria’s south-east as the reserve was engulfed in flames.
We lost a lot of grazing land A handful of nature conservationists and rangers with water tanks battled for hours to control the blaze, dampening down the grass surrounding the education centre.
Within hours of the fire breaking out animals such as rhino, zebra and buck as well as birds could be seen wandering across the blackened fields, evidently in a daze. A lookout point, recently built by the Friends of Rietvlei, also went up in smoke.
Reserve manager Riaan Marais said Eskom technicians were working on a pylon when sparks from their angle grinder set the dry grass alight.
“This is despite us warning them hundreds of times not to do welding on their lines in the reserve. The fire just ran away and burnt over 1 500ha of land. We had finished with our controlled block-burning programme so this was extra damage. We lost a lot of grazing land.
“We are not sure if any animals have died. Most of the bigger animals would have just run away.”
He said from a conservation point of view they stopped the fire by letting an entire block of land burn. This would prevent the fire from flaring up again at a later stage.