Experts are predicting that Cape Town may soon experience its worst fire season as a result of the climate crisis and rising temperatures. Newlands, Hout Bay and Constantia are the areas most at risk.
Many areas in Cape Town are naturally dry and bountiful with fynbos. As climate change worsens, the environment gets drier and puts these natural areas at risk of forest fires.
Community-focused environmental NPO Parkscape explains that climate change is the biggest factor in the increase in fire risks. “Climate crisis is probably the most significant driver of the risk – longer and hotter summers, drier winters, and prolonged periods of drought,” says Nicky Schmidt, chairperson of Parkscape.
“We also see a greater focus on fynbos conservation, and particularly in Table Mountain National Park. As critical as it is to conserve our fynbos biome, we need to remember that fynbos is fire-dependent and needs fire for regeneration. Ideally it needs to burn every 10 to 15 years. However, if it doesn’t burn and if fuel loads aren’t properly managed, the fire risk increases. Fuel reduction burns – controlled burns and stack burns – must become intrinsic to the management of our natural areas particularly where these areas border the urban interface.”
Prevailing wind conditions are also a factor in fire risk.
“Then add into the fynbos biome and climate crisis mix, the growing infestations of fuel-rich and fire-adapted Australian species like gums, wattles, rooikraans, port Jackson not just in the Park but also in other areas. These species increase the severity of fires,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt lists Constantiaberg as a key area for increased fire risk as a result of its dense alien infestations.
As the fire risks increase, our built environments are put in more danger. The Betty’s Bay and Knysna fires of 2017 are key examples of the damage forest fires can do to the built environment.
Schmidt suggests that urban residents who live within five kilometres of wildland or natural areas need to become more fire-wise.
“Creating defensible spaces around homes is critical. And this includes managing landscaping so as to reduce fuel load, keeping trees away from a house, planting fire-wise plants, keeping gutters clean, keeping flammable material away from a house, having nearby water sources and avoiding having thatch roofs. People also need to be far more careful with braais and equipment that can cause sparks,” Schmidt added.
Visit the Cape Peninsula Fire Protection Association website to read useful information for homeowners.
Check out this handy guide to preparing your urban property for fire:
Those interested in learning more about the risk of wildifres can attend Parkspace’s fire awareness presentation 0n October 17 from 6pm-8pm at the Old Mutual Hall, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.