Cape faces fire catastrophe as experts fear city's worst fire season lies ahead
News / 18 September 2019, 07:43am / Marvin Charles
Cape Town - Experts have warned that climate change and the rise in temperatures will see Cape Town experience its worst fire season, with areas such as Constantia, Hout Bay and Newlands particularly at risk of a major catastrophe.
Professor Coert Geldenhuys from Stellenbosch University's Forest and Wood Science Department, said that because of the drier conditions people and properties will be more at risk than the environment.
“We should be very concerned about this because you have many natural areas in Cape Town that are very dry and a lot of fynbos in certain areas.
“If we look at areas such as the Cape Peninsula and Cape Flats you can see those areas are very dry and it is also where the properties are located and where there's a lot of plants around the houses,” he said.
Community-focused environmental non-profit Parkscape said climate change would be a major contributor to the hot weather.
“Climate crisis is creating conditions whereby we are seeing hotter and drier summer conditions, longer summer seasons and a greater likelihood of drought.
“Additionally, as conservationists strive to restore endangered ecosystems within Table Mountain National Park and other nature areas, we bring our fire-dependent fynbos biome, which needs to burn every 10-15 years, closer to the urban edge.
“When you get infestations of exotic species, such as gums, wattles, rooikrans and Port Jackson into that fire-dependent mix, such as we see on the slopes of Constantiaberg, the fire risk is increased and becomes more severe,” said chairperson Nicky Schmidt.
She said firefighting services and organisations and voluntary teams were well-equipped and well-trained to fight fires, however, their capacity was very much dependent on the size of the fires.
“As we have seen with some of the big fires, local crews sometimes have to be supplemented with crews from elsewhere in the country.
“Local residents living on the wild land urban interface are likely less well-prepared, if prepared at all, to deal with fires,” she said.
Parkscape will be hosting an awareness presentation next month on what they see as “a megarisk in Cape Town of a disastrous wildfire that could run on the slopes of Constantiaberg to Hout Bay and Newlands.
Last month the City recorded an increase of 8.7% in vegetation fires.
Cape Peninsula Fire Protection Association general manager Riaan Fourie said: “Because there is so much vegetation and fynbos we are at higher risk.
“We should be concerned because the risk is higher and we could have more fires depending on how strong the wind will blow.”
UCT climate scientist Peter Johnston said: “Summer is a drier period and increased temperatures coupled with the lack of August rainfall may have an impact."
“What we are going to see for the next three months is a lot of fires and the public must be cautious.”
In January, at least 31 houses were completely destroyed and 28 partially damaged by wildfires on the coastal Overstrand region. In 2017, the catastrophic fire that engulfed Knysna was likely started by someone burning pine cones. The cost of the damage was an estimated R4 billion.
Managing director of environmental consulting firm NCC Environmental Services Dean Ferreira urged the public to be more cautious.