Fynbos and fire

 

Fynbos and the St Francis fire

Fynbos is a fire-adapted vegetation that requires regular burning for its persistence. In the absence of fire, fynbos is gradually replaced by thicket species. It thrives on infertile soils and fire is the mechanism that recycles precious nutrients from old moribund growth into the soil. Fire in fynbos is far from a disaster, but rather a crucial trigger that resets the fynbos ‘succesional clock’. It provides the stimulus for dormant seeds to germinate and the opportunity for many annuals, short-lived perennials and bulbs to grow, flower and seed during times of abundant nutrients and sunlight. They complete their short life cycles, returning to the soil as the larger shrubs overwhelm them, and remain dormant until the next fire. The optimal fire cycle for fynbos is between 10-14 years. Shorter fire cycles can wipe out slow maturing species, while species start dying when intervals become too long.

Fires are more common in fynbos than in any other heathlands in the world and it’s rare to find fynbos stands of more than 20 years of age. Some species re-establish by sprouting from a woody root-stock (these plants are known as resprouters); while others germinate from seed that has been stored in the soil or on plant canopies between fires (reseeders). Some resprouters, including many of the larger Proteaceae, protect their trunks from fire with a thick, insulating layer of corky bark and resprout from buds buried in the trunk following fire. Unlike sprouters, the seeders have a complete turnover in generations after each fire and are therefore subjected to a greater frequency of natural selection and higher speciation. The high diversity of species in fynbos can, at least in part, be ascribed to population fragmentation and regular turnover in generations as a result of fire.

The huge 2006 fire that swept across the Agulhas Plain was frightening to witness, yet the subsequent regrowth and succession of fynbos over the last five years has been a wonder to behold.

Article from Harry Voerman

 

A lesson learnt?

Disaster Management Plan must be a priority

Helicopter hero - St Francis Fires

Our helicopter hero

If the events of the past week have taught us only one thing it should be that we all need to have a Disaster Management plan in place if and when potential disaster threatens. We may not suffer a similar threat for many years to come but to be prepared is essential, possibly more so in the St Francis area where it seems the threat of fire is ever present.

This preparedness need not only pertain to fire for there are many potential threats that we face each and every day be it that a flood destroys our water supply or again destroys the bridge connecting us to the rest of South Africa. What if the Eskom power grid fails or the threat of a tsunami created in a far off ocean floor thousands of miles away? Impossible? Well unlikely but, there still needs to be a disaster management plan of sorts in place for any potential threat no matter how unlikely.

The threat could also be on a much smaller scale and possibly a more personal scale where say a head of the family or a business owner is suddenly incapacitated through injury, illness or death. Suddenly a family’s or the employee’s livelihood and wellbeing is threatened. Do any of us have a plan for such possible threats?

Certainly we need not become paranoid about potential threats but should all at least have a basic plan for such eventualities. This scribe for one has certainly learnt a lesson for those who are regular readers of this publication will have noticed we did not publish our daily newsletter for three days last week. An NO we are not closing down and leaving town as a rumour suggested, it was simply that we did not have a plan of action when something relatively insignificant in the greater scheme of things affected our ability to publish. That insignificant ‘something’ was simply that the PC that contains all the software used to produce this publication decided to go on strike. Whether caused by mishandling equipment when evacuating our home/office last Sunday or just one of those computer failures that strikes without notice, the fact is that we simply did not have a Disaster Management Plan in place. And yes we are putting a plan together so that it won’t, hopefully, happen again if we can possibly avoid it.

During the six days where the fire spread from one front to the next each time there was a change in wind direction, one can only wonder if the Kouga municipality actually had a Disaster Management Plan. That those fighting the fire on the ground and in the air did an amazing job in saving us from what could have been a massive disaster goes without saying and these heroes, each and every one of them, deserve our eternal gratitude. With all their fantastic work and bravery the question however must be why were their efforts so uncoordinated? It was only four or five days in that there seemed to be any action plan and the biggest question must be why were the Air Force helicopters not summoned at the height of the fire rather than when the fire had been largely extinguished?

Exception to the uncoordinated efforts to the north of those of us residing in Cape St Francis was the action taken by both the Cape St Francis Resort who were on top of things from the very first hint of possible danger invoking the immediate evacuation of tourists and residents staying in the resort. In this vein the coordinating efforts in Cape St Francis of Trudi Malan and Esti Stewart must be mentioned for they certainly seemed to have plan in place albeit the KM should really have been the body orchestrating the entire regions effort.

A glaring example of the lack of a plan was the evacuation when Sea Vista was under threat. Instead of a coordinated effort, traffic jams ensued, caused by those who had received a message on social media that help was needed to evacuate the township thus hindering rather than helping.  All turned out to the good but one cannot bear to think of what loss of life there could have been with cars blocking the road had the fire suddenly raged totally out of control. One burning vehicle could have spread the already blazing fire at an alarming rate.

Social Media was abuzz with news on the fire and SM can certainly be an extremely effective way of informing if administered by a single entity conveying factual information. Yes it should certainly be used as part of any disaster management but sadly it can also be a conveyor of misinformation particularly when posts are made by the uninformed reacting to hearsay.

A lot more needs to discussed in terms of a way forward in terms of disaster management and no doubt we will be able to keep readers informed as such plans are discussed and are, again hopefully eventually published for there is no doubt that all concerned have learnt from the events of last week. No doubt similar discussions were held after the canal fires of 2012 but possibly any initial planning fell by the wayside as other more pressing matters took centre stage. This must not be allowed to happen this time around and the various associations in the greater Kouga region must insist that a plan be put together by the municipality.