Cape Town - Firefighters across the Western Cape have been hard at work over the past two months responding to 63 fires since the year began.
With the fire season still not over, the demand for firefighting resources, particularly aerial resources, has seen a significant increase this year.
Some of these fires had the potential to wreak havoc and have adverse consequences as they threatened community members and livelihoods.
The firefighting efforts that suppressed these fires were by Western Cape Disaster Management and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment’s (DFFE) Working on Fire (WOF), together with their partners.
WOF spokesperson Limakatso Khalianyane said: “Out of the 63 fires, 42 were dealt with in January, with more than 130000 hectares of forests and vegetation burned. WOF aerial resources spent 450 hours making close to 3 000 water drops dousing flames and assisting in bringing most of these fires under control in the past two months, enabling ground crews to move in swiftly to fight more manageable flames.”
A significant fire was the Hansekop blaze that originated in Grabouw, in the Overberg, and spread into the City of Cape Town territory where it raged near Sir Lowry’s Pass in Somerset.
Another fire that had the potential to cause major destruction raged in the Kluitjieskraal plantation near Wolseley, in the Cape Winelands region.
Western Cape WOF general manager Antoinette Jini explained that the fire season ended in April, but due to climate change they have had to respond to fires out of season.
“Most of these fires occurred in areas not easily accessible for ground crews and the blazes were too large for them. Therefore it was ideal to use aerial resources to reduce the intensity and allow ground crews to fight the fire. When the fire is spreading rapidly, putting properties and lives at risk, aerial resources are ideal,” Jini said.
Local government MEC Anton Bredell's spokesperson, Wouter Kriel, said almost R16 million from the provincial disaster budget was spent to extinguish fires since the start of the fire season in the province.
He added that the Western Cape disaster management centre had not yet run out of funding and there were internal mechanisms in place to ensure funds remained available.
“An amount of R15 700 000 has been spent thus far. Budget is adequate at this stage and can be supplemented through existing mechanisms should undue pressure arise, which may result from significant fires.
“The province is currently in the second year of a three-year aerial firefighting tender. The tender is fully funded and ensures equitable cover during the fire season,” Kriel said.