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Fire is an inevitable and necessary factor in the ecology of the Fynbos Biome. To ensure the optimal regeneration of our precious veld it needs a comprehensive burn every ten to fifteen years. Dead growth is removed and precious nutrients re-enrich the infertile soil. And when the dense canopy is removed there is sufficient space and light to stimulate almost immediate regeneration.

after fire

This lovely plant, Haemanthus canaliculatus, appears on the Red Data list as endangered. It has been flowering profusely in the vlei area after the recent fire. Many other plants are sending up new leaves, including Restios, Mimetes cucullatus and Watsonias.

A few fynbos plants, like Mimetes cucullatus, Protea cynaroides, Protea nitida [Waboom] and Leucospermum conocarpodendron, have fire-resistant, woody rootstock or stems and soon resprout after a fire. Others rely on reseeding and the new conditions stimulate the germination process. Most fynbos seeds have evolved specifically to survive fire and some actually require the chemicals in the smoke, as well as the heat of the fire, to push-start the regeneration process. [In botanical terms, our fire came at the best possible time—just before the Autumn rains.]

The transition from the post-fire “lunar landscape” to recognisable fynbos vegetation is a fascinating and surprisingly quick process. Within days of a summer fire the first lilies appear. Soon, the dormant bulbs begin their growth cycle, producing leaves and then flowers. With the first autumn rains, there is widespread germination and the final stage of the regeneration of the fynbos begins. And, in a mere five to seven years the veld will be back to “normal”, but with a significantly greater variety of plants.

Fire prevention

As Betty’s Bayers, we are privileged to live in one of the most species-rich fynbos areas of the Western Cape. The spectacular veld is ours to enjoy and we have fabulous fynbos-rich mountain slopes as our backdrop. But fire is a constant threat to person and property and with privilege comes responsibility. We need to do every thing in our power to limit the destruction that runaway fires can wreak.

We were reminded of this necessity a mere month ago when a fire that started east of Dawidskraal swept through the greenbelt to Bass Lake. Strong winds fanned the flames and changes in wind direction meant that properties on either side of the green belt were seriously threatened. There were flare-ups for nearly a week as smouldering embers and roots were reignited by the wind. Without the valiant efforts of our municipal and volunteer fire-fighters, and of the fire-fighting teams from other areas, the destruction could have reached catastrophic proportions.

The first thing a responsible property-owner needs to do is assess the risk to his personal property in order to take appropriate precautions. If one lives in a built-up, more “suburban” part of Betty’s Bay, the risk to one’s property will be significantly lower than to a property near a large open natural area or on a mountain slope. An area that is exposed to strong Southeasters will be at greater risk than the more sheltered pockets. But we are all, to some degree, affected and therefore have a duty to ensure that conditions on our property will not exacerbate the devastation of a runaway fire.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Ensure that all fast-burning alien vegetation is removed from your property [pines, eucalypts, Port Jackson, myrtle, rooikrans, black wattle, New Zealand Christmas trees, pampas grass, etc.]
  • Remove all dead vegetation and trim sprawling plants.
  • Ensure that the area that surrounds your house is kept as clear as possible.
  • In a three-metre band, try to limit your planting to grass, ground-covers and low-growing plants, especially those with fleshy leaves, that are trimmed to a height of no more than 20 centimetres. Ericas and restios are fine as long as there is no dead plant material nearby. Never have trees or bushes close to or overhanging your house.
  • Beyond the three-metre mark, stick to indigenous plants of varying heights that naturally reduce heat – fleshy-leaved plants like bietou and plectranthus , certain Proteaceae, like the King protea, and indigenous shrubs and trees, like wild olive, sutera [wild fuschia] and rooi els. Succulents and aloes are great in this regard.
  • Ensure that your gas cylinders are housed legally and keep gutters clear.
  • Store your firewood and compost well away from any buildings.
  • Never burn garden waste. Take it to the dump.
  • Whenever you braai, have a hosepipe at hand and always extinguish your your fire before you leave the vicinity. [The coals must be cold to the touch.]
  • Never leave a fire unattended.
  • If you are outside, use welding equipment and other tools that cause sparks on windless days only. Always have a hosepipe nearby.
  • Always extinguish cigarette butts. [And bin them. A filter takes 30 years to decompose.]
  • Never set off fireworks.

Should there be a fire in your area, however unthreatening it may seem, be aware that it could spread alarmingly at any time. By taking certain precautions, you could be saving yourself a lot of future heartache. Many residents were forced to evacuate their houses with very little warning during the recent fires.

  • Ensure that you have access to a vehicle that has sufficient fuel and is dependable.
  • Have all important papers, ID documents, passports, contact numbers and addresses, birth certificates, medical aid details, bank account details, wills, etc., together in a readily-accessible place.
  • The same goes for prescription drugs, cell phones and chargers.
  • Valuables and especially-loved possessions should be identified beforehand.
  • Pack a change of clothes for each occupant and one or two blankets.
  • Ensure that you fill a couple of water bottles for yourselves and your pets. [Remember to grab a suitable receptacle for the latter.]
  • Close all doors and windows when you vacate your property and leave the lights on, both inside and outside the house. This will aid the fire-fighters in thick smoke.
  • Leave containers of water on your property for animals that have escaped the fire.

And , finally, make sure that you have secured realistic fire insurance and that your instalments are never allowed to lapse.

The Fire Department: 028 312 2400
The 24-hour Emergency Control Room: 028 313 8111