Fire in South Africa

Fires are, and always have been, a part of the South African landscape. They occur as a natural phenomenon in grasslands, woodlands, fynbos, and sometimes in indigenous forests.

Two Fire Seasons

South Africa has two fire seasons according to rainfall patterns, the dry summer months in the Western Cape, and the dry winter months in the rest of the country.

Often wildland fires are started by lightning or, in mountainous regions, by falling rocks. Most, however, are started by accident by people being careless with open flames and indifferent to the consequences of their carelessness.

Fire In South Africa

Fire-adapted ecosystem

About 70% of the ecosystems covering South Africa are fire-adapted. They need to burn in order to maintain their ecological integrity. But because of human activity there is a need to manage fire in a manner that is appropriate for the land-use and land-type, while maintaining natural processes and patterns as far as possible.

Fire as a management tool

A million years ago early humans began to utilise fire and for the last 100 000 years modern humans have used veldfires for hunting and for managing their environment. Today, fire is still employed in the management of veld and forest, to control grazing and habitats, and as a tool in the prevention of uncontrolled fires. However, small fires frequently escalate into disastrous, uncontrolled wildfires.

Fire and Alien Vegetation

An increase in invasive alien plants is a cause for concern as they increase fel loads. High fuel loads exacerbate the intensity and heat of fires, making more difficult to control and dangerous to suppress.

Fire and Climate Change

Climate change is expected to increase temperatures over parts of the interior of South Africa by as much as 3 to 5 C by the end of the century.

Longer dry spells may also occur more frequently during all seasons. Increasing temperatures and increased drought frequencies combine to exacerbate the incidence of fire risk.

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Fire in South Africa