The 2018/19 fire season has become known as one of the most overwhelming in the history of the Overberg. While more than 30 wildfires burned during the season, 20 of these were very damaging and very costly. Many of these fires also affected more than one municipal district. For example, the Betty’s Bay Fire, which started on New Year’s Day, burned into the City of Cape Town district. While a Villiersdorp fire also burned large tracts of the Franschhoek Pass.

Here are some of the bigger fires that burned in the Overberg since December – and their impact in the region.

Timeline

2019
February 24

24 FEB – NAPIER

24 FEB – NAPIER

This fire started on the Bloublokkies farm just outside Napier, and following several flare-ups, headed towards the Sandy’s Glen area. With extreme effort and several “nearly contained moments”, the fire was prevented from reaching the Napier Mountain, but did jump the Elim road. The head was stopped before reaching Fairfield farm with the support of professional ground crews – Enviro Wildfire Services and NCC Wildfires. The right flank had to be stopped on the R316, just outside Napier, with a burnout. The fire below the mountain (ignition point) was contained by doing two burnouts. The dense alien vegetation, hot weather conditions and very dry veld made for a very challenging fire. The wind was in our favour and allowed the strategy to work.

February 18

18 FEB – NUWEDAM

18 FEB – NUWEDAM

Nuwedam fire (Tierfontein, Baardskeerdersbos area). Dense vegetation, proximity to homes/infrastructure and “fire season-weather” made this fire a 10-day battle. Containment was reached more than once, only for changing weather conditions to cause spread again. Landowners continued to use heavy construction equipment (excavator) to create access and control lines. Burnout operations and active fire-fighting were required to extinguish this fire. It was an integrated response with the full commitment from the landowner and additional support provided by his neighbours.

February 18

18 FEB – SHAW’S PASS

18 FEB – SHAW’S PASS

This wildfire was reported at the bottom of Shaw’s Pass (southern side) just after 17:00. In extremely windy conditions, local farmers and the Fire Services combined their fire-fighting efforts. After two days of intense efforts to limit the damages and the disastrous spread of this wildfire, a burnout operation was launched. Two choppers, landowners and Fire Services, plus the Bredasdorp Working on Fire team fought this one.

February 17

17 FEB – FRANSCHHOEK

17 FEB – FRANSCHHOEK

The Franschhoek fire (also known as the Mooiwater fire), started on 17 February, and lasted several days, with huge ecological damage which was suppressed at huge cost. Homes were threatened and this wildfire had great potential to spread into other areas like Jonkershoek. Good inter-agency cooperation played a role in preventing further losses.

January 24

24 JAN – GOEDVERTROUW

24 JAN – GOEDVERTROUW

The Goedvertrouw fire was reported at 12:42 on the 24th and continued to burn for days. It burned over the Groenlandberg, into several wine estates and fruit farms, threatened at least two communities and two large packing plants, and cost millions of Rands to suppress (and much more in damages – both ecological and economic losses caused by the fire). By 30 January, the fire was brought under control, with around 9,500 hectares lost. The cause of this fire is still under investigation, but lack of land management made this difficult to control and extinguish. Several agencies, including the SANDF worked this wildfire.

January 24

24 JAN – VAN DER STEL’S PASS

24 JAN – VAN DER STEL’S PASS

The Van Der Stel’s Pass Fire (or Goedvertrouw fire) started on 24 January and continued to burn for days. It burnt over the Groenlandberg, into several wine estates and fruit farms, threatened at least two communities and two large packing plants, costed millions of Rand to suppress and more in damages – both ecological and economic. By 30 January, the fire was brought under control, with around 9,500 hectares lost.

January 17

17 JAN – KOFFIEKRAAL

17 JAN – KOFFIEKRAAL

The Koffiekraal Fire (Botriver/Grabouw area) started during the early afternoon, and required aerial resources and specialist ground teams to support the Fire Services and CapeNature.

January 13

13 JAN – KOFFIEKRAAL

13 JAN – KOFFIEKRAAL

The Koffiekraal fire started on the railroad hairpin bend. Aerial resources and local FMU members assisted the Fire Services.

January 11

11 JAN – FRANSKRAAL

11 JAN – FRANSKRAAL

The Franskraal fire was started due social unrest. Parts of the town of Franskraal were evacuated, with two structures lost in town, as well as a caravan park. Around 1,000 hectares were destroyed. More severe structural damage and the possible loss human lives were prevented thanks to the support of landowners. Photo: Rene Nel

January 11

11 JAN – HERMANUS

11 JAN – HERMANUS

The Hermanus fire (or Karwyderskraal fire) came about when the Karwyderskraal fire reignited in extremely windy conditions (on 11 January). The fire stormed into the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Camphill Farm Community was severely damaged. Areas in Hermanus were evacuated. No structures were lost (in Hermanus), but 1,300 hectares were destroyed, including part of the Fernkloof Nature Reserve. A well-organised farm watch prevented further losses.

January 1

1 JAN – BETTY’S BAY

1 JAN – BETTY’S BAY

The Betty’s Bay fire, which started on New Year’s Day. This became one of the most devastating fires in the history of the Overberg. The fire started due to a flare shot off early on the 1st of January 2019. The fire caused significant ecological and economic losses, and contributed to tragically loss of lives. A Pringle Bay woman passed away from health difficulties exacerbated by stress due to the oncoming fire, while her family was assisting with fighting the fire. On 11 January, the fire entered the town of Betty’s Bay, and destroyed 31 properties, and damaged 28 homes. Henry Hopkins (71), a former journalist at Die Burgerand former editor at Die Wynboer tragically passed away from injuries sustained while trying to save his pets when the fire destroyed his home. The fire burned two thirds of the Kogelberg Nature Reserve, with 12,800 hectares lost. Shelton April was arrested on suspicion of starting the fire. The court case is ongoing.

2018
December 29

29 DEC – NAPIER

29 DEC – NAPIER

The Napier rubbish dump fire started at 09:00, and when it spread to agricultural land (and due to proximity to urban development), aerial support was used.

December 25

25 DEC – PEARLY BEACH

25 DEC – PEARLY BEACH

The Pearly Beach fire was one of the three wildfires in the Overberg on Christmas Day. This affected around 800 hectares but no structures were threatened.

December 24

24 DEC – GRABOUW

24 DEC – GRABOUW

Three Grabouw fires. One of the areas experience several fires this fire season. Thank you to the Grabouw team and FMU leaders who responded.

December 17

17 DEC – HAGELKRAAL

17 DEC – HAGELKRAAL

This fire was ignited by a brushcutter making a firebreak.

December 15

15 DEC – HAWSTON

15 DEC – HAWSTON

The focus was on structure protection. Image: David Morris

December 13

13 DEC – KARWYDERSKRAAL

13 DEC – KARWYDERSKRAAL

The Karwyderskraal fire started on the 13th and proved to be one of the large wildfires of the season. It lasted nearly two weeks and started up again during the Betty’s Bay Fire. This fire could have caused much more damaged were it not for the winter preparation and hard work of all the fire fighters (services and landowners).

December 12

12 DEC – RIVIERSONDEREND AND BONNIVALE

12 DEC – RIVIERSONDEREND AND BONNIVALE

These fires burned for more than 10 days fire and around 3,500 hectares were burnt on the Cape Winelands side of the mountain, and a further 3,500 on the Overberg side.

December 12

12 DEC – ARNISTON

12 DEC – ARNISTON

The Arniston wildfire started on the 12th of December 2018 and was declared out four days later. The ignition point was 3km west of Arniston and burned in a westerly direction (De Mond). This fire burned in dense mixed dune fynbos, alien vegetation, agricultural land, a protected nature reserve and within the urban area. Access was limited and proved to be a special concern for the safety of the fire fighters. This, the weather conditions and the fuel load made suppressing this fire difficult and necessitated large burnout operations. Aerial support was used extensively, but the support from the surrounding farmers must be highlighted. Special mention to the Cape Agulhas Municipality, the SAPS, SANDF and Overberg Test Range.

December 10

10 DEC – ARNISTON

10 DEC – ARNISTON

Around 4,500 hectares were destroyed, and one home and a store room were lost on a private nature reserve. The ignition of the fire is being investigated by the SAPS.