Wildfire in the Overberg: So what has changed?

By Kirsten Watson

For me, this year started like no other. We were only a few days into 2019 when we heard the news: It’s burning. Franskraal, our closest town (to Flower Valley Farm), was being evacuated.

It was one of three fires burning in the Overstrand at the time. And with fire-fighting resources under strain across the district, many landowners (including Flower Valley Farm) came to help. 

We lost our cellphone reception AND electricity supply. Communicating was impossible. Fire-fighting became even more challenging.

During this time, I had the opportunity to see a ‘new’ side of fire – one that fire-fighters are seeing all too much of.

So what has changed?

1. It seems that wildfires are now burning in unusual circumstances, even after rain, and during winter months.

Why? This is because of climate change and prolonged drought.

2. Wildfires are more aggressive 

(like the Franskraal fire). We are seeing an increase in fire intensity (we hear this also from our Overberg Fire Chief, Reinard Geldenhuys). He warns this is due to the drought and the alien invasive species that create a much hotter fire and is more difficult to control than a fynbos fire.

3. You simply can’t rely ONLY on your own team and your neighbours today. 

You need to be tuned into bigger partnerships, who also have access to resources. And it’s essential to be an active member of a Fire Protection Association and participate in your local Fire Management Unit.

4. To undertake a management burn today, you need to plan. 

In fact, it requires a lot of planning – including having the right PPE (personal protective equipment), the right people, and getting the timing right. There’s no room for a mistake.

5. Today we know that the majority of fires are human-induced (according to the goFPA). 

There are also more high risk weather days that makes ignition easier. These two factors contribute to the increase in fire frequency that we are experiencing in the Overberg.

6. Be careful of sparks that can be created from slashers, “bossieslaaners” or brush cutters when they hit stones.  

Accidental fire ignition is not only from cigarette butts or fires left unattended. They can also ignite from using metal machinery.

Our region is a hot-spot for wildfire this year. So as fire season looms in the Overberg, these are some of the changes we note, and try to prepare for.

We’re extremely grateful to our neighbours, our partners in the Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy, and our support in our Fire Management Unit. And of course to the Overberg and Overstrand fire-fighters and the Greater Overberg Fire Protection Association for assisting us all to be as wildfire ready as we can be.

Image credit: Riaan Jacobs