Beware the season of burning

Beware the season of burning

11 October 2010

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Namibia —  Wildfires are causing havoc, destroying pastures and in extreme cases causing the deaths of animals. However, no human lives have been lost so far.

These fires occur mainly in bushy and mountainous areas where individuals start fires to clear land.

Simon Mayes of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism explained that wildfires, also known as bush or veld fires, generally occur in September, October and November when it is hot and dry.

He said the fires are dangerous and it is not easy to extinguish them during the day.

It is easier to extinguish wild- fires at night. The time of day when people choose to burn fires when clearing their fields contributes to these fires as well.

Also, it is important to note the direction the wind is blowing when starting a fire.

Burning cigarettes that are discarded in the veld can contribute to wildfires when the weather is dry and hot. Lightning is another cause of wildfires.

Martin Tubalele, a forest ranger in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, in the Kavango Region, explained that in cases where an area is extremely dry and lighting hits that area, it is most likely to cause fire.

Tubalele said fires occur all over the country, especially in mountainous areas. The Kavango, Caprivi, Omaheke, Otjozondjupa and Khomas regions are the most affected areas.

So far, there are no records of human life lost as a result of such fires, Tubalele said.

But, in the Kavango, goats, huts and bags of mahangu were lost to wild fires.
Recently, said Tubalele, a woman also reported she lost N$6 400 to a fire.

Tubalele is of the opinion that fighting these fires should not be left to the forestry department alone. “Every one should be involved,” he said, adding that is the only way to regulate fires.

He said further that traditional leaders should be empowered to punish people who start fires without taking the necessary precautions.

Mayes said a perception exists that these fires are bad but he counter-argued that if controlled fire, in general, can be a good resource tool for the benefit of people.

According to Robin Beatty, a Fire Management Coordinator for Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation, bushfire management in the Caprivi Region is taking a new direction and focuses on using fire as a resource by taking control of when, where and how fires occur.

“Controlled burning is used as an effective tool in managing wildfires, land use and the environment,” he says in a report availed to New Era.

To diversify fire regimes, controlled burning is used to vary the timing and spatial pattern of fires throughout the year.

According to the report by Beatty, commencing controlled burning in the early dry season establishes a patchwork mosaic burn pattern throughout the landscape.

“This strategy minimises the occurrence, intensity and extent of wildfires later in the dry season by reducing and fragmenting fuel loads.”

He said it is used to enhance land use through balancing immediate and future resource availability, such as cattle gra-zing and natural products such as thatching grass and timber. “Variation in fire regimes provides diversity in spatial and temporal habitat and increases biodiversity,” said Beatty.

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