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Fires beneficial to fynbos: Expert

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As hundreds of firefighters continue to battle a raging fire that has engulfed large parts of the South Peninsula, the blaze has left untold damage both on property, as well as the natural vegetation in the area. This has also indirectly impacted on wildlife across the affect region.

But despite concerns that the fire will have a detrimental impact on the flora and fauna, Dr. Adam West of the Department of Biological Sciences at UCT said that the Western Cape fynbos was in fact adapted to burn, and thus in need of fire to continue thriving.

“The burn that we have here is not particularly surprising, and it is actually in fact really well timed. The area last burned about 15 years ago, and all of our information tells us that if fynbos doesn’t burn every 15 years or so, we lose a lot of species and diversity from this system,” he explained.

From an ecological perspective, he said the massive fire would only serve to benefit the vegetation, adding that the only time fire would be bad for the fynbos was if it occurred too frequently. And because the fire was not coinciding with any forecasted heavy rainfall, he suspected plants would begin to re-grow within a week or two.

“By the time the heavy rains come in winter time, the system will should be ready for it,” he said.

Ecosystem aside, much of the negative aspects has been on the human health, as well as property in the areas. The fires have already left a trail of destruction in its wake, with several houses and resorts in the areas having burned down. But West suggested the city’s urban planning was good in this regard.

“All of our fynbos is up on the mountain and our houses aren’t imbedded in amongst the fynbos. If they were, people would be dying, and we would be losing a lot of property,” he noted.

The fire has brought about concern amongst all sectors of the community towards the environment. Whilst West was full of praise for the interest shown by Capetonians, he said that concern need be redirected to issues that would be much more helpful in protecting the ecosystem.

“This includes stopping the encroachment of houses into that system, stopping the propagation of alien vegetation into the system. That really brings a huge fuel load, and can really make those fires run completely out of control,” he explained.

Firefighters have been ardently trying to contain a fire that has been blazing since Sunday. There have been suggestions that the fire will continue for the remainder of the week at least. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)

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