More rainfall this year has prompted the Kruger National Park to implement its fire management policy earlier than usual.
The park conducts controlled bush burnings ahead of the fire season each year to prevent any wildfires from breaking out.
“The excellent rainfall we experienced this year has resulted in a huge fire fuel load building up in the veld which, if not controlled, will haunt us…during the fire season,” said the park’s head of conservation management, Freek Venter.
During controlled burning, park rangers burn patches of bush to get rid of any dead vegetation that would otherwise fuel dangerous runaway wildfires.
“Specific areas have been identified and the cool, low intensity fires that are set will create patch burns which will help slow down fires during fire season,” said park spokesperson Raymond Travers.
The burning also has ecological benefits for the park, such as regenerating the veld.
Travers said fire research has shown that early controlled fires help control bush encroachment by certain tree species and allow others to flourish.
“We realise that many visitors to the park will see these fires in a negative light, but we would like to assure visitors that these fires are in the best interest of the conservation of the area, both from a vegetation and a safety point of view,” said Venter.
He added that an additional benefit of the management of fires for visitors is that vegetation is kept low, making it easier to see wildlife.
He stressed, however, that this isn’t the main reason for patch burning.
Travers added that animals in the park are seldom hurt in the burning process.
“Depending on the circumstances, animals are affected in varying degrees, but animals have been exposed to fires for centuries and they know how to react to them,” said Travers.