Is fire a key driver or destructive force?

By Mitch Afrika

On 17 December 2019, news came that smoke had been spotted just below the lower Flower Valley border. The smoke was seen in a dense poplar tree forest, on a neighbour’s property. But with no way to enter, we had to wait it out and let it burn out towards Flower Valley Farm.

Then our worst fear came true: this wildfire started raging on Flower Valley Farm, running in its length across the farm. Seven intense hours after the fire reached the farm, we were lucky to have been able to extinguish it – with around 30 hectares of Fynbos lost in the process.

Were it not for the support of neighbouring land owners and the fire department, things could’ve been so much worse.

Then came another miracle: ONLY 12 days later, the first flowers started emerging on the burnt patch.

First we saw the Fire Lily (Cyrtanthus ventricosus). Fire Lilies are known mostly for their phoenix-like behaviour. They emerge in areas that were burned by what is usually described as a seemingly-destructive fire. 

Not long after, the Paintbrush Lily (Haemanthus coccineus) also emerged. This plant flowers every year on Flower Valley Farm, but is believed to flower out of season when triggered by fire – as in our case. We especially noted the plant flowering in our firebreaks (this was a firebreak cut on the day of the fire).

Can one therefore really describe this as a destructive wildfire?

What is perceived as destructive may not be so destructive at all. Most Fynbos species are adapted to regular fire cycles. Exclusion of fires in Fynbos causes landscapes to be dominated by a few selected dominant species. But when there are wildfires, ecological burns and/or controlled burns, you’ll experience higher species richness.  

What the burned area will look like over the next few years, only time can tell. But I’m excited to see and experience it.