I had a bit of a frustrating afternoon yesterday. I am still struggling with this damn cold and so I had decided to take the afternoon off and rest. But, discussions in the morning led to my Boss asking to pop in for “15 minutes” in the afternoon to sort out something. I didn’t mind so much, the something was quite important and all so it’s fine. Well I only left the office after 4pm. Not impressed.
Fortunately, I still had time to go and get the groceries I needed and I had a bit of time to kill before I had to fetch J. As I was leaving the supermarket parking lot, I noticed some smoke up on the hills behind town. having time to kill I thought I’d go check it out.
This area is near a small dam just on the other side of the highway bypass outside town. I suppose it could be called commanage, there are no private houses or anything to be destroyed, other than the grassland, by this fire. Just behind the telephone poles on the top of the ridge (top right) the hill drops away into a pretty steep slope, with indigenous forests. I think that this is a planned burn, and it looks quite cool. We’ve had rain in the last few days so the ground is still pretty damp.
I drove up past the car in the first picture (bottom right) and snapped these. The sun was starting to go down and I thought the colours were quite pretty. You can sort of see the section that has already been burnt. The second ridge behind the golden coloured one.
This shot is to the left of the previous one, and zoomed out a bit.The fire is behind the first ridge (there’s a very shallow valley there) but it is burning all the way across. Pretty pretty colours!
Now I know most people freak out about fire in the wilderness, and it is true that they can be very damaging. However, cool, planned (?) burns like this are actually very good for the habitat. Let me give an example. But first you need some back ground. In South Africa, we have a program called ‘Working for Water“. It is a government program which removes thirsty alien invasive species, such as Black Wattle and Gum trees which in turn means that less water is sucked out of the ground by the vegetation and more ends up in our streams and rivers. The problem is that the removal process does not equate to clearing and the projects leave behind a lot of dead vegetation. Coupled with the very low annual rainfall, you have what amounts to a lot of fire-lighting tinder lying around! Not an especially great thing. So, 2 years ago, after several intensive clearing projects, there was a lot of brush. And then there was a fire. And it was very very hot; and very very big and it raged for days. Thousands upon thousands of hectares of vegetation was destroyed, livestock, homes, fortunately, I don’t think anyone was killed. The problem was the intensity of the fire. Instead of rejuvenating and allowing new growth, the heat killed the seed bank and it has taken years to recover. In fact, in places, it hasn’t recovered yet, leading to soil erosion.
As I mentioned, fire is actually an essential part of the ecology of the vegetation that we get around here. Grahamstown sits right on the edge of the Cape Floristic Region and the vegetation is mostly fynbos. Many of the plant species actually require fire in order to germinate.
And now that you feel like you’ve had a lecture, I am going to go. Work to do you know! I’ll leave you with one last pretty picture though.