Fireworks spark fire damage to UWC Nature Reserve
As 2017 began, sparks from fireworks from the University-adjacent Belhar residential area around midnight, were ringing in more than just the New Year - they also ignited a fire that raged for hours and caused substantial damage to two hectares of vegetation in the Cape Flats Nature Reserve, also affecting the one hectare at the main entrance.
Eventually, after a four-hour battle, the Belhar Fire Department managed to extinguish the fire.
The fire posed a potential danger to the animal life in the reserve as well as the Radnor Business Park directly opposite the University, on Robert Sobukwe Road.
Two expensive camera traps were completely destroyed, and almost 200 metres of fencing and expensive signage needs to be replaced.
The Cape Flats Nature Reserve Head, Hestelle Melville, says they are grateful for the special efforts of the various fire departments who assisted during a time of frequent veld fires.
“The fire broke out at the centre of the reserve just a couple of minutes after midnight on New Year’s Eve.
“We have video footage confirming this. The conditions were perfect for this to happen: it was hot and dry and the the fact that the wind was howling on the night, made matters even worse.”
The fire spread from the picnic area in the centre of the reserve to the vegetation lining the Robert Sobukwe main entrance, narrowly missing the environmental education building, when it flared up again on Monday, 3 January.
Staff member and nature conservationist, Robin Adams, a trained fire marshall, managed to save the Reserve buildings. Without him employing the basic fire-fighting equipment to bring the most threatening flames under control, everything would probably have been destroyed. Adams heads a team responsible for the Reserve's firebreaks – basically pathways he created to divide sections of the reserve, which helped greatly to eliminate the damage fires may cause
Adams says, “By the time I arrived, the fire was about five metres high. In the meantime, security personnel and our committed UWC staffers were going the extra mile doing their thing acting as fire beaters. That’s when I got the fire hydrant piping out and managed to get the fire around the main building under control, with the assistance of my colleagues.”
Melville advises fireworks should not be used during dry and windy conditions. The smallest spark can ignite a fire that can carry on for days, especially since Fynbos can continue smouldering underground through the vegetation’s root systems for days - even after a fire is extinguished. This leads to the flair-ups we’ve seen around Cape Town.
“Fireworks are also very traumatizing to animals, wild or domestic.”
In the meantime, staff and students are monitoring the new vegetation growth after the fire.
“Although fires are damaging, it is exactly what the reserve needs to encourage new growth and provide the stimulus for dormant seeds,” Melville says. “But we’d much prefer having controlled fires to prevent losses, and the endangering of lives and infrastructure.”
Other fires that affected the Reserve in 2016:
18 November: Two hectares of vegetation set alight due to arson close to the Unibel railway station. The fired raged from 11.30 to 14:00. A total of 165m of fencing and signage have been damaged and needs to be replaced.
18 November: On the same day a fire was started at the most southern part of the campus. It took five hours to kill this fire which broke out at 16:00. Three hectares of vegetation was set alight due to suspected arson. A total of 167m of fencing has been damaged and the fire was eventually extinguished by 20:00.
Did you know?
1. The Cape Flats Nature Reserve is a private reserve that falls under the administration of the University of the Western Cape. First created as a refuge for Strandveld and Coastal Fynbos, it now functions as a base for ecological teaching, environmental education, research and a natural space for the public to enjoy.
2. The vegetation of this 30 hectare reserve consists mainly of (endangered) Cape Flats Dune Strandveld and (critically endangered) Cape Flats Sand Fynbos. There are around 220 indigenous plant species in the reserve, from small reeds and grasses to tall, broad-leaved shrubs. The reserve also hosts a variety of animals, including tortoise, mongoose, a variety of reptiles and insects, and dozens of species of birds.
3. The Cape Flats has the world's highest rate of plant extinction, with vegetation highly fragmented and isolated by urbanization, and extremely small areas formally conserved. So the Cape Flats Nature Reserve, situated on UWC Main Campus in Bellville, is one of the most important conservation sites in the Cape Lowlands.