Around 1 500 veld and wildfires are extinguished by the Cape Winelands District Municipality (CWDM) fire services every year, which provides a 24 hour, 7 days a week service and runs on a budget of R50 million per annum. Fire season runs from 1 November to 30 April and the Cape Winelands District is ready.
“The Division: Fire Services is one of the flagship functions of the Cape Winelands District Municipality,” states Executive Mayor of the Cape Winelands District, (Dr) Helena von Schlicht. “These men and women put their own concerns aside to ensure that there is no loss of life or property due to a wild or veld fire.”
The Cape Winelands District is mostly made up of agricultural land and mountainous areas, with a rich bio-diversity that includes fynbos and other indigenous flora and fauna, including the endangered geometric tortoise and the Cape Leopard.
These areas are popular with hikers, birders, 4X4 drivers, climbers, and campers, all of whom need to be aware that making a fire outside of designated areas is prohibited. Around 93% of wildfires are caused by humans, with only a few caused by lightning and animal activities.
Fighting fires is not the only task the CWDM Fire Services division has to oversee; they prepare firebreaks as well, to the value of R600 000. This equates to 28 kilometers of firebreaks varying in width from 10m to 30m depending on the risk that fires pose. Farmers or landowners in the CWDM can contact the fire services for assistance regarding firebreaks.
On top of these duties, the CWDM Division works at training new firefighters along with developing the skills of the existing firefighting team. On October 26 2018, the service had 32 new graduates, many of whom come from disciplines like the SA Navy and areas such as the Overstrand. Among these new graduated firefighters are four women.
The fire season has started a little early this year due to the unseasonably hot weather, which dries out the ground and causes veldt areas to be particularly vulnerable to fires. As part of preparing for the season, the services have 60 full-time fire fighters as well as 60 reservists. Furthermore, the municipality has teamed up with Cape Nature, the Winelands Fire Prevention Association (FPA) and 5 private ground teams.
Mr Danie Wilds, CWDM Fire Chief, says, “One of the questions we often receive is, why do the services not extinguish veld fires immediately? In answer, we explain, there are many factors involved in fire management; sometimes it’s time for the veldt to burn and weather conditions are favorable for a controlled burn; other times a fire may threaten nature, young veldt, a water catchment area or in many cases, farmland and /or homes. Our main goal is the prevention of fire and when fire occurs the preservation of life, livelihood and property.”
The services have just under 50 specialised firefighting vehicles, some of which are equipped to deal with very specific forms of incidents, for example a fire caused by hazardous substances.
The CWDM urges visitors to be aware of their environment, and always tell someone where they will be hiking, biking or camping. Furthermore, they remind people that it is compulsory to have a permit for the area they are visiting and, most importantly, to not make a fire outside of a designated area.
Anyone can report a veld fire; in the Cape Winelands district, the number to dial is 021 887 4446.