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We are experiencing very high temperatures with strong winds predicted. It does not mean that because of the heavy rains we have experienced over the last few months that we do not need to take the necessary precautions in preventing fires and are therefore re-publishing the article below.

Fires are becoming an increasing problem in the Western Cape. The Overstrand annually has its own growing number of fires. Unfortunately the three conservancy villages of Betty’s Bay, Pringle Bay and Rooiels experience the same tendency. The biggest problem in these areas is to marry the concept of being fire wise with that of preserving the natural environment.

Although this seems to be a conflicting goal it is achievable if all of us just follow the fire wise guidelines as set out in the Firewise booklet posted to every property owner in 2008 when the three little towns became the first Firewise villages in South Africa.

The fire wise concept as many of you probably know is that of a joint responsibility between ratepayers and the local municipality in following the Firewise rules and guidelines in protecting the area against run away veld fires. Many people refuse to clear their undeveloped properties on receiving letters to the effect as they claim that Municipal properties are just as overgrown as their own. This problem has been brought to the attention of our Fire Chief who has taken up the matter with the area manager resulting in an undertaking by the municipality to clear municipal properties. Clearing will however be done in the same fire wise manner expected from the public and is thus a time consuming project.

Up and until the devastating fire of 13 May 2008 when four homes burnt down against the mountain in Betty’s Bay, ±75% of the destruction was caused by downed Escom power lines. Since Escom upgraded these lines it has not happened and all fires aside from the one caused by lightning on the mountain in the Kogelberg reserve on the 3rd of June 2010, were caused by humans, either through negligence or on purpose. At least two of these fires were caused by inhabitants of Betty’s Bay who threw fire ashes into the fynbos. Fortunately both these fires were quickly extinguished.

Fighting a run away veld fire is very costly. The per hour cost of one big Fire Tender is R900.00 during normal working hours and escalates considerably after hours as over time for the crew comes into play. The amount per hour for the use of a small helicopter is R19,000.00 and that of a big one R35,000.00. It does not take a mathematics wizard to realise that an operation that lasts for a couple of days could run into millions.

I do not like to be the bearer of bad news but if found guilty by a court of law of being the offender causing such a fire you could be held responsible for all of the costs to effectively extinguishing it.

Fynbos is highly flammable and needs to burn from time to time to regenerate itself. Our main problem is that fires which start on the perimeter or within our villages are more often than not fanned by high winds which make them very difficult to fight especially on steep slopes. Our fynbos is further infested in some areas with virtually impenetrable alien trees which add to the problem. As we live within a conservancy and simply can NOT afford to destroy our natural environment it becomes critically important to manage our fynbos gardens by annually removing all dead wood, cutting away undergrowth and most importantly eradicating ALL ILLEGAL ALIEN TREES AND SHRUBS. According to NEMA legislation (National Environmental Management Act) it is illegal to have these alien infesters anywhere in the Western Cape. It is equally illegal to have any of them in your garden as windbreaks or shade trees! These illegal aliens include, Port Jackson, Rooikrans, Australian Myrtle, Spider Gum, and Pampas Grass.

Complying with the regulations and following firewise guidelines in your garden will make it much easier for our Fire Brigade, many of whom are volunteers, to try and save you, your pets and your property.

Most roads are very narrow and if verges are not cleared regularly it simply means that they cannot be negotiated by big Fire Tenders. Randomly clearing the verges can however lead to other problems as in some areas in the villages this is exactly where we find that some very rare and endangered plant species grow. Fortunately our municipality is sensitive to this problem and will not cut down the vegetation in such areas if made aware of its existence in advance. If you see them cutting in your area and you are aware of such plants simply point these out to the workers and ask them to leave the relevant spot untouched.

If all of us work together, comply with the regulations and respect our environment, it is possible to preserve our conservancy with all its natural beauty that we are so blessed to live in.