March 7, 2015
For nearly a week, a forest fire raged through much of the Cape Peninsula region of South Africa. On Sunday, March 1st the fire began on the hills above the seaside town of Muizenberg, a popular destination for surfers and other beach visitors. Over the next few days, aided by strong winds, the fire spread across the mountains to the towns of Hout Bay, Tokai, and Noordhoek. These towns are all suburbs of the city of Cape Town, where I live and work. For a time, the normally busy mountain roads Ou Kaapse Weg (Afrikaans for “Old Cape Road”) and Chapman’s Peak were closed to traffic as the fire raged along them. For five days, professional firefighters and many volunteers battled the raging fire, which threatened many homes and other structures and which, unfortunately, engulfed a few buildings, reducing them to charred pieces of wood. Many people, including some of my friends and work colleagues, were evacuated from their homes when the flames ranged dangerously close. Emotions ran high as people wondered if they would still have homes by the weekend. Some of the Cape region’s famous vineyards were burned, and some historical buildings were threatened. For example, as a precaution antiques from the famous Groot Constantia Manor were removed although, thankfully, the flames on the farm were put out before the manor house burned down. The fire was mostly fought on the ground, but helicopters and airplanes fought the fire in places where ground crews could not reach, or could not reach quickly enough. Helicopters equipped with giant buckets scooped up water from the sea and from lakes and dropped the water on the flames. Crop-dusting type airplanes spread water rather than pesticides. Thankfully, the fire was finally brought under control yesterday, and the last of the flames were extinguished today.
Although forest fires commonly occur in the greater Cape Town area during the hot and dry summer months, the fire that raged this past week was unusually extensive and destructive. Here’s an infographic from News24 that summarizes the recent Cape fire:
The fire has had a dramatic effect on the peninsula landscape. Normally fairly green, much of the mountain range now seems an alien landscape, reminiscent of Mars or the moon, perhaps. Ecologically, the fire will have a big impact on the animals, such as the baboon troops, and the vegetation of the forest. For the local fynbos vegetation, the recent fire is actually a good thing, in many ways. Many fynbos plants actually thrive after forest fires, taking advantage of the sudden room. Some fynbos plants even depend upon regular fires in order to be able to reproduce because their seeds germinate as a result of heat from the fire and chemical compounds from the fire smoke. Many fynbos plants can re-sprout after a fire. Mere hours after a fire sweeps through, the vegetation begins to grow again. All that said, fynbos does not thrive if fires occur too often, so it is still important for humans to be vigilant and not start fires accidentally. Potentially, a single carelessly tossed cigarette may have started the recent fire.
Today, my husband and I went hiking in the Silvermine Nature Reserve off of the Ou Kaapse Weg road. We often hike at Silvermine, which is usually covered in thick green vegetation. However, today we hiked in amazement through the sparse charred remains of trees and other vegetation, which were sticking up out of bare reddish brown soil and white ash. We took quite a few pictures of the recently-burned landscape, and I’ll share some of those pictures in my next post. Today, I’d like to share some pictures of the fire itself. All of the pictures in this post were kindly sent to me by Nils Backeberg, a geologist friend of mine who lives in Hout Bay. The pictures show the fire raging in Hout Bay. Thanks very much to Nils for allowing me to share these pictures here on Georneys.
Here are some pictures of the fire being fought by a helicopter:
So, those are some pictures of the flames. Stay tuned for some pictures of the ashes in the next post!