Western Cape Fire Season approaching

Anton Bredell, Western Cape Minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development planning, visited the Newlands Fire Base Station in Cape Town to discuss preparations for the coming wildfire season with senior firefighting officials. Wildfire season traditionally runs from November to May in the Western Cape.

Bredell said the Province responds to more than 15 000 reports of fire outbreaks each year, and this year the Department of Local Government will allocate R16 million towards firefighting.

Bredell said he is proud of the excellent cooperation between the different firefighting organisations who work together to manage wildfires. “We have a Memorandum of Understanding between all municipalities in the province, ensuring that when a wildfire occurs, the closest firefighting unit will immediately make resources available, and can also call on other units for assistance. This means we can very quickly pool resources and focus on the task at hand”.

Bredell said the Western Cape Disaster Management Centre plays a crucial coordination role in this regard. “There are 30 firefighting bases, as well as several volunteer firefighting outfits in the Province. These organisations are staffed by more than 3000 firefighters who need to be coordinated, often at very short notice and under difficult and dangerous conditions.”

According to Bredell, the Western Cape Rapid Response Strategy, initiated in 2012, will again be implemented this year. This strategy is based on the premise that expensive aerial support should be made available sooner rather than later. “This strategy has resulted in a historic success rate of more than 90% fires being extinguished within the first hour of being reported. Yes, aerial support is expensive, but it is much cheaper than the damage that might be caused by a runaway wildfire.”

Western Cape Disaster Management Centre, in partnership with the City of Cape Town, Cape Winelands Municipality, and SANParks, will have access to 24 planes and helicopters this season.  “We are preparing for up to 3 aerial missions per day during the height of the summer,” Bredell said.

Bredell said human behaviour remains the number one cause of wildfires. This is compounded by the proximity of human settlements and wilderness areas throughout the province. “CapeNature, our conservation entity in the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, reported that in 2021/22, only 26% of fires CapeNature responded to started from within CapeNature protected areas. These were mostly due to lightning strikes. In comparison, a total of 55% of fires were started by people, either through negligence or on purpose, 14% were started by mechanical means such as powerlines, trains, or equipment such as chainsaws or brush cutters, and 5% through prescribed burning practices.”

Bredell said there is much that the public can do to help prevent wildfires:

Please be responsible with open fires, especially during warm and windy days. Only using designated fireplaces and facilities, and never leave a burning or smouldering fire or candle unattended. Fire safety practices also applies to our homes. This includes reducing the fuel load around buildings, clearing a defensible space around your home, and ensuring water availability in case of an emergency.”

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