THE VERMAAKLIKHEID FIRE – a perspective from Conrad Hicks

The article below has been submitted by Conrad Hicks. Let us know via a comment what you think about this issue.

Many of you will have seen the scar that was left by the fire that started on the weekend of the 17th of December2011.
It started late in the evening of Saturday the 17th. On Sunday morning I went for a run up the radio mast and was surprised to see the fire damage and that it had died down of its own accord the wind direction had been blowing it against the road where the fire fighters could easily control it.
However the next morning Sunday the wind direction changed to SE and the fire very soon grew from a few wisps of smoke to a massive fire and moved across towards the river.
This pattern went on for a few days, the fire dying down at night and then with the day wind starting up again. Each day the fire protection unit from Stillbaai had to be called, but were unable to be effective as they had no access to the back of the fire in order to put it out.
Had the respective landowners been responsible and cut their fire breaks on the fence lines and kept the old access roads open this fire would have not been the potential threat that it became.
Fortunately the wind direction stayed from a predominately southern direction and the fire was not directly threatening to houses.
We had the borrowed the Duiwenhoks Conservancy’s ‘bakkie sakkie’ and had it mounted on our on the vehicle just in case the fire came close to houses but there is no way that any effective fire fighting can be done if property owners do not take the first step of doing the minimum of obligatory maintenance to fire breaks and keeping the fuel load down on their land by clearing alien vegetation. Theses requirements are law and no amount of excuses such as “this is a Holiday property, and we can’t afford it” is going to wash. If the expenses of being responsible are too much, one much question ones eligibility of custodianship of the land. However I suspect it is not the expenses, but more a case of not being willing to work together to create a management plan.

We now have a situation where there will be an opportunity to keep the burnt land clear of Rooikrans by pulling the new growth. However this is extremely expensive as there is no financial balancing from the sale of firewood.
This fire also highlights the effect of disorganized cutting of firewood. Currently, it is done in random patches and the dry branches left in a disorganized tangle making it not feasible to do an effective clearing until the new Rooikrans is big enough to make firewood. This takes about 10 years.
Also it must be mentioned that the fire has caused the loss of a valuable harvests of indigenous species that would have helped toward funding sustainable alien clearing. Bad news.

2 thoughts on “THE VERMAAKLIKHEID FIRE – a perspective from Conrad Hicks

  • February 20, 2012 at 10:10 am

    I fully agree with Conrad’s article. If one owns land, one needs to take responsibility for the land. Wild fires are by definition difficult to predict and manage. There are a few simple measures we can all take:
    1) Belong to the Duiwenhoks Conservancy so that we can more effectively work together and help each other.
    2) Join the S. Cape Fire Protection Agency – the annual fee is very small.
    3) Remove alien bush and keep the grass short around your houses.
    4) Plant fire-resistant species around your house, such as milkwoods, aloes and sour fig.
    5) Use local labour to cut rooikrans and create fire-breaks.
    People like Boelie in the village are looking for work, and wants to cut rooikrans for firewood to raise money, and desperately wants to purchase a chainsaw.


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