Why do we undertake controlled burning?
Joe : “We do controlled burning for two purposes. For the vegetation / conservation management of the reserve and for fire protection for all infrastructure.
On the vegetation front, we know that Fynbos needs to burn approximately every seven years for regeneration purposes and some Fynbos can even burn every four years. The older the veld gets, the less productive it becomes and is under utilized. Our objective of burning these blocks is to increase animal veld utilization around Gondwana. At the moment our highest concentration of animals is on the central plains around gate 2. We would like to utilize the rest of the reserve and burning promotes grazing as well as looking after the Fynbos.
From a safety perspective our focus is to protect the infrastructure on Gondwana. Blocks are burnt according to the threat of runaway fires in differing seasons. At the moment our biggest threat in summer is the hot northerly winds and the prevailing south easterly. The current burn of the north eastern blocks protect us from the northerly winds and plans are underway for blocks to be burnt for protection from the South Easterly
How is controlled burning done?
Joe: “It starts with thorough preparation. Firstly fire breaks need to be made using the bulldozer as well as mowing to prevent the fire from jumping into another areas. The blocks are also burnt in sequence so that the fire can move into an already burnt area and die out to increase safety, so the first block is always the most important one. Then depending on the winds we can then decide which block we would like to burn next as it is already a lot safer.
Second, the local Municipality is called in to do an inspection on the fire breaks, give advice and a fire permit is issued which is valid for 30 days.
Third, the Fire Index needs to be monitored. The fire department monitors this index to assess a favorable day to burn. This is dependent on the wind direction, the humidity, the ambient temperature and the fire-load. The fire index has color codes for different risk levels. On a blue, green and yellow day we can burn, on an orange or red day we may not.
We then assemble the team. The 4×4 fire truck which can hold 2500 litres of water, the Hilux water truck with a1000 litres capacity as well as backpacks and blowers to direct and kill the fire. Around 25 ground staff are available to assist with the fire. We also have a helicopter on standby with a water bucket.
What is important to remember is we will always burn away from any infrastructure.
If there are animals in the block in which we would like to burn, we leave a corridor open for them to escape. We can also use the helicopter to nudge them along if need be.’
What are your future plans for controlled burning at Gondwana?
Joe: “Our plan is to burn roughly 2500 to 3000 hectares per year over the next 3 years. This year we have not been able to do this due to the drought conditions. Normally if you light a fire around midday, the fire dies out in the evening due to the moisture in the plants. This is not the case at the moment because the vegetation is so dry. At the moment we need to be very careful about what and when we burn.
The plan for next year is to burn the “Trees loop” area of around 1500 hectares on the North Western part of the reserve. We also need to constantly identify threats from neighboring farmers and burn blocks accordingly. As much as we don’t enjoy burning its essential to manage the safety risks and is an important part of reserve management”
Interview conducted by Nadine Clarke.