Fires are something we are all too used to in Africa. We get months of dry heat every year, and when combined with wind and dead leaves, this can make for a deadly combination. But each year, as rising temperatures from climate change force weather to get more and more extreme, so too do the intensity and frequency of our fires.
It seems like Western Cape is ground zero, and the first place to start going up in flames. In mere weeks, this year has already brought with it plenty of fire damage and displacement.
On New Year’s Day, shack fires in Khayelitsha and Thembeni left three people dead and 4 000 homeless. About two weeks later, fires also spread through informal settlements in Belhar, Strand, Mfuleni, Mitchell’s Plain and Gugulethu. 80 Shacks were destroyed, and 320 people were displaced, while electricity systems also sustained considerable damage.
Next to catch the blaze were areas such as the Cederberg mountains near Clanwilliam, Tulbagh, Franschhoek, Uniondale, Walker Bay, Overberg, Overstrand and Stanford. After much effort and a lucky bout of cool weather, most of these are now under control. Ten helicopter water bombers, eight spotter planes, eight fixed wing water bombers and 37 pilots were sent to the Western Cape to help stop these fires. Despite this, 25 000ha of veld has already been destroyed in Clanwilliam alone.
are we losing this battle?
The Franschhoek fire that started last Sunday burns on. The authorities on Tuesday declared a code red emergency in the region between Franschhoek and Paarl, a crucial stretch of SA’s prime Winelands land. A total of 7 100 hectares of land – including farmlands and indigenous fynbos – have already been destroyed.
Reinforcements have been called in from the Eastern Cape and the Free State, and another five teams will now assist the already exhausted Working on Fire (WoF) teams. A total of 14 firefighting teams are working around the clock to get these disastrous fires under control.
In the past eight weeks, WoF has helped local authorities to suppress and control more than 50 veldfires in the Western Cape.
But how does climate change lead to such immense destruction? As a result of climate change, temperatures rise each year (see above graph). These changes in temperature affect fire patterns, which will in turn impact carbon cycling, forest structure and species composition.
Read more about that here:
Fire photos: (Source: News24)
1. Fires as seen from Kylemore, 15km away from Franschhoek.
2. The view of the mountain burning as seen from Paarl.