South Africa — A measure to combat veld fires that ravage forests countrywide each year, killing livestock and destroying homes was on Monday unveiled in Sabie, Mpumalanga.
Launched by Working on Fire (WoF) and Komatiland Forests, the Raindance Aerial Incendiary Device was aimed at “igniting prescribed burns in forests” to help reduce runaway fires, WoF advocacy manager Val Charlton said in a statement.
“The fire starter capsules can be dropped with precision from helicopters or fixed wing aircraft to ignite prescribed burns in forests.”
When the capsules of potassium permanganate are dropped in the forest, the chemicals combine to create a flame that ignites fires. Fire breaks would be set up around “prescribed” areas beforehand to contain the blazes.
“The idea of the capsules is that the fire will start – in a contained area – and burn out without spreading to other areas.”
Charlton said weather conditions would be considered before dropping capsules.
Asked why it was deemed necessary to ignite more fires after 100 blazes hit nine provinces, killing over 30 people, thousands of animals and destroying thousands of hectares of land this year, Charlton said controlled fires were vital to avoid destructive fires.
“The reason is that in most parts of the country, fire is a natural thing. It has to happen in order to reduce natural fuel (undergrowth). Without fire, the amount of natural fuel increases on the surface of the forest and you risk having wildfires. So ignited fires are used to reduce the amount of fuel,” Charlton said.
The device was developed in western Australia by fire management experts in search of an effective and reliable way of implementing aerial ignitions in forests.
Ben Bothma, a fire risk manager of Komati Forests said the airborne incendiary system was a safer operation that would help improve productivity and decrease costs.
“This will allow foresters to increase the extent of prescribed burns from an average of 50 hectares a day to more than 1 000 hectares a day, because while traditional methods with hand-held igniters would take hours… if not days, prescribed areas will burn out in a matter of minutes,” Bothma said.
Burning trials, which would see the destruction of 1 500 hectares of the Komatiland Forests, would be carried out from Tuesday until the end of the month.