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. 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. Almost 99% of all fires are caused by human negligence, by people being careless with open flames and indifferent to the consequences of their carelessness. Cigarettes, matches and lighters, candles, heating appliances and open braai fires can all cause fires if not carefully monitored. It is not only human error that causes fires. Environmental factors such as changing weather patterns and urban spread increase the risk of fires with the effects and level of damage often being felt more severely. The South-Easter wind coupled with high temperatures make ideal conditions for wild fires to run rampant. 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 landscape management Fire as a management solution Working on Fire ( an Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) aimed at providing work opportunities to young men and women under the Department of Environmental Affairs.) advocates a holistic approach to managing fire, called Integrated Fire Management (IFM)  – a concept resulting from extensive and in-depth research in the field of fire behaviour. This approach is built on the notion that wildfires can be managed, if dealt with proactively, rather than reactively and that quality resources (the necessary equipment, vehicles, trained firefighters) should be available should a fire occur. This approach drastically minimises the loss of life, property and the environment. Reduction (Prevention) “Prevention is certainly better than cure” and for that reason Working on Fire advocates a proactive approach to fighting wildfires. This includes helping with putting the right legislation in place to govern how fires are managed, creating community awareness and educating communities on fire safety, advocating and implementing prescribed fires and fuel load reduction. Rehabilitation and Research The aftermath of a wildfire, requires rehabilitation of the burnt area. Immediate dangers include soil erosion and longer-term damage by invasion of exotic and invasive plant species. In commercial areas, there can be a need to remove burnt materials and re-plant commercial crops and trees. In order to be better prepared in the future, research should be done to determine how the fire started, what contributed to the spreading thereof and how best to prevent similar occurrences it in the future. To prevent the loss of lives and property, everyone needs to be aware of the dangers of fire season. Here are some tips to stay safe:
  • Always have Burnshield with you when you are in a “fire” related situation (cooking, braaing, etc…)
  • Always extinguish fires and safely dispose of hot ash, coal and cigarettes
  • Always work in an open, cleared area when working with power tools
  • Ensure that your electrical appliances are correctly wired
  • Keep the area around your home clear of flammable materials
  • Only burn rubbish on cooler, wind-still days, provided you have a burning permit
  • Never leave an open fire unattended
  • Only use fireworks and Chinese lanterns far from areas prone to fire
  • Register with the Fire Protection Association for enhanced security – failure to do so will have a court automatically assume you are guilty of negligence in the event of a liability lawsuit.      Resource: .

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