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.
24 FEB – NAPIER
This fire started near 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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.