Folks, it has been a trying time here in our beautiful Garden Route region the past week, especially the tragic loss of 7 lives including 2 heroic firefighters. The loss of human life, domestic animals, wildlife, homes, farms, businesses and natural habitat that have occurred since the wildfires started 7 June 2017 are just devastating. In excess of 10 000 people were evacuated in the Knysna and surrounding areas; a traumatic experience for everyone who has been affected directly and indirectly.
Our little home office is based in Sedgefield and we were fortunate to escape the devastation that so many in our community are having to face right now. Amidst this disaster the community pulled together in the most inspiring way, displaying great bravery and determination; and the flood of love and support from around the country displays our nation`s true colours.
How did the fires start?
Rumors of arson are doing the rounds on social media, and although this has not been ruled out, one has to look at and acknowledge the sheer power of the elements. The gale force winds and dry vegetation of this drought stricken region presented were the ideal conditions for a tragedy like this to strike.
According to an article published on News 24, residents say that fire warnings were ignored.
“Residents in Elandskraal near Knysna said they warned the local fire brigade that there were fires smoldering in the dense brush in the mountains above their farms more than a month ago, but nothing was done about it.”
Lightning records and satellite photographs were used to to compile a report on the origin of the fire, and according to this report, a lightning strike hit the mountainous area already on the 12th of April earlier this year. It is believed that the fire was smoldering underground after the intense heat of the lightning set fire to tree roots; and that the wind, together with low humidity and rising temperatures, contributed to the rapid spread of the fire.
Negligence could also have played a roll as people discard live cigarette butts into the bush (besides the fact that is takes between 2 and 10 years to biodegrade), and do other irresponsible things.
The Underlying Problem
Our friends at Platbos shared an eye-opening, and hauntingly prophetic article that was written in 2009 on the hazards of unchecked alien vegetation and pine plantations in the Knysna region. It predicted the water shortage plus the dire threat of runaway fires that has now occurred..
“Successful land management depends in part on good planning. Planners often use brief descriptions of possible futures (termed scenarios) to help people to visualize the longer-term consequences of the actions they take (or fail to take) today. Our tale is of a rather sobering scenario that we feel should be urgently and seriously considered by those planning for the Garden Route’s future. It envisages a future in which residents and tourists alike are subject to severe and chronic water rationing as a result of a failure of mountain catchments to deliver ample, clean water as they do today.
In this possible future, fires would rage with abnormal intensity, seriously threatening homes, crops, plantations and people. The high-intensity fires would damage the soil, resulting in erosion and silting up of dams, further exacerbating water problems. Tourist numbers would dwindle, both because of the dire water situation and because the unique and attractive fynbos that characterizes the region’s many hiking trails would have largely disappeared under invasive alien pines. Economic activity would flounder and poverty would increase.
Such a scenario now seems a strong possibility rather than an unlikely and distant outcome, simply because society has failed to plan for, and to deal with, the threat of invasive alien plants. How could such a situation have arisen?” Continue reading for the explanation given in the Veld&Flora article on alien invaded Garden Route.
It is clear that authorities and land owners need to rethink the strategy going forward. It is undeniable that the Garden Route needs more indigenous plants and trees to recover and sustain life. If we do not heed to the call we are in for more devastation and loss of of life and habitat.
Invasive plants will make huge comeback after fires.
Cobus Meiring of the Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI) says a huge concern for landowners is having to deal with current and future invasive aliens that will establish themselves as a result of the fires that ravaged the Southern Cape during the past week.
According to Cape Nature, the top 10 invasive alien plants affecting the Western Cape are:
- Black wattle
- Port Jackson
- Silky hakea
- Long-leafed wattle
- Australian myrtle
- Spider gum
- Cluster pine
These plants can have a severe effect on water resources, reducing water run-off by as much as 30% in heavily infested areas. Learn how to control alien invasive vegetation and how you can help.
“The Western Cape has been identified as one of the provinces in South Africa being most at risk from projected climate change-induced temperature and rainfall changes. Population growth and climate change impact on the environment and social systems and put considerable pressure on the available resources.” – Challenges to sustainability in the Garden Route: Water, Land and Economy
The Climate change evident in Cape storm Knynsa fires article published by the Mail & Guardian on 14 June 2017 highlights that well coordinated efforts are of paramount importance to adapt to climate change, but that the adaptation strategy warns: “Institutional fragmentation poses enormous challenges to co-ordination, which is compounded by the fact that few departments, apart from environmental affairs, view climate change as a priority in their sector.”
It is imperative for ordinary citizens to join and be part of the groundswell movement by participating in or contributing to proactive projects to mitigate the risks in our current scenario.
Indigenous Forest = Hope for the Garden Route
Did you know that the Garden Route, although lush with vegetation, has only 30% of its indigenous forest left?
A wonderful initiative, the Precious Tree Project, concentrates on creating patches of Forest, by planting indigenous and endemic Forest Trees in the Garden Route area of South Africa. Gifting or sponsoring the planting of a Tree contributes towards the lives of current and future generations, compensates for your greenhouse gas emissions and begins to off-set your carbon footprint.
Get Involved!!! The Precious Tree Project is on an active to mission to restore the area after the tragedy hit Knysna and surrounds. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved, become a sponsor and leader for a greener future! Follow the Precious Tree Project on Facebook.