South Africa: How to Prepare for Fire Season in Cape Town

20 September 2019

The Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) says it is prepared for the impending fire season in Cape Town but believes residents can do their bit to minimise the chances of a wildfire damaging or even destroying their homes.

For starters, they should check that the 3m "danger zone" around their home structure was clear of flammable or dead vegetation and their gutters were not full of debris, TMNP fire manager Philip Prins told News24.

"Our biggest problem if there is a wildfire coming down the mountain is not the direct flame, it's the ember attack. Embers move ahead of the flame front and wherever they land, properties are not properly prepared."

Those who have wooden decks - used for hosting parties or admiring the view - should ensure that leaves do not accumulate underneath as this is a risk.

So too are pine and palm trees as well as other exotic varieties that many people plant right next to their homes.

"We also see branches hanging over the roof ... people need to do their bit."

And this includes people lower down the mountainside, not just the first row of houses backing a reserve or forest.

Another way residents can help is by understanding the benefits of a controlled burn, which is done in a confined area and under strict conditions.

Prins said when they applied for a permit from the City of Cape Town for any controlled burning, there was a seven-day objection period in which they often received complaints from the public.

"They say 'it's too close to my residence' or 'think about the smoke and ash I am going to sit with'."

According to the Cape Peninsula Fire Protection Association website, the aim of a controlled or prescribed burn with fynbos vegetation is to reduce unnecessary "fuel" for fires, control alien vegetation and rejuvenate the fire-adapted and fire-dependent vegetation.

The fire season in Cape Town ran from December 1 to the end of April but could start earlier and finish later, said Prins.

Environmental non-profit organisation Parkscape chairperson Nicky Schmidt told News24 that it believed Cape Town was at great risk of a wildfire which could run from the slopes of Tokai and Hout Bay to Newlands.

"We are in a fire-independent biome. It needs to burn and it will burn ... infestations of alien vegetation - which grow higher and more densely - increase the fire risk and severity further," she said.

Adding fuel to the fire were drier and longer summers as a result of climate change and urban activities such as braais, discarded cigarette butts and glass bottles as well as sparks from welding equipment, Schmidt said.

Prins said while it was difficult to predict the risk of a fire season, the TMNP was prepared for an immediate dispatch of resources and work on an 86% containment of a wildfire within 90 minutes.

"That is our record from statistics we have kept last year and the year before."

He said it received the fire danger index from the South African Weather Service every morning. On the days that it is orange or red, the TMNP is even more vigilant and makes sure teams stay at their bases in Newlands, central Cape Town and Cape Point.

"We have a helicopter that will be on standby from October 10 and we will also make use of the City's helicopter from December 1," Prins said.

The TMNP also has an agreement with provincial disaster management and Working on Fire.

"We have signed a contract with service providers to provide [around 50] Type 1 firefighters who will be on standby from mid-November to December 1. We also have 30 from Working on Fire at the Newlands base."

Source: <b>News24</b>

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