Cape Town - The South African Weather Service (Saws) has warned that extremely high fire danger conditions should be expected over parts of the Western Cape and Northern Cape as scorching conditions are being experienced in Cape Town and other parts of the province.
“Fire teams, labour, and equipment are to be placed on stand-by. At the first sign of smoke, every possible measure should be taken to bring the fire under control in the shortest possible time,” Saws said.
The weather service said extremely high fire danger conditions were expected over the western parts of Namakwa District in the Northern Cape, the interior of the West Coast as well as Drakenstein and Beaufort municipalities in the Western Cape.
“Conditions are such that the Fire Danger Index is above 75. Under these conditions, fires may develop and spread rapidly, resulting in damage to property and possible loss of human and/or animal life,” Saws said.
Although the biggest part of the Western Cape predominantly has a summer fire season, local government MEC Anton Bredell said it was not uncommon for the season to extend into autumn and even early winter.
UCT Climate System Analysis Group (CSAG) PhD student Stefaan Conradie said the high fire danger expected yesterday and today was the result of dry, hot, gusty berg winds blowing to the coast.
“These weather conditions are common during autumn and winter before approaching cold fronts in the Western and Northern Cape provinces, and along the Eastern Cape coast to Gqeberha,” Conradie said.
However, because much of the Western Cape received very little rain during April and in May thus far, Conradie said the fire danger was probably greater than it would usually be at this time of year.
“We've experienced a string of very warm and dry autumns recently (2015, 2017, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022), which are projected to become more frequent as the planet warms. It seems likely that this effectively extends the fire season in at least some Western Cape locations,” Conradie said.
Climatologist Izidine Pinto said hot and dry weather conditions ideal for fires had been more frequent in the past decades, and according to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s sixth assessment report, these conditions were projected to increase in the future as global warming levels increased.
“The increase in temperature is the most robust and unavoidable aspect of climate change.
“Any sector that has temperature dependence – from the impact on fire, crop diseases, water resources, and all the way to human health and infrastructure – will be increasingly affected until such time as the world effectively responds to reducing greenhouse gas concentrations. Our present trajectory into the future is not encouraging,” said UCT CSAG director Bruce Hewitson.