What to expect this Winter Fire Season
Predicting nature may ultimately be a fool’s errand but being prepared for whatever the Winter Fire Season throws at us, is something the Fire Protection Agencies (FPAs) try hard to do. On the other hand, Mother Nature has very little to do with wildfires,” says Trevor Wilson from Kishugu Aviation. “People start wildfires.”
With over 20 years’ experience in aerial firefighting, which includes over 2,000 hours of firefighting from the skies, Trevor has seen many various Winter Fire Season scenarios. And after two years of El Nino, having a marked effect on South Africa’s climate, Trevor says we can expect “normal” Winter conditions this year.
“We had a good rain season, which has resulted in high fuel loads. And the late precipitation, hail and even early frosts, are all totally normal,” he says. Early frost only poses a problem as it makes for difficult fire breaks. “So, if we burn fire breaks now, the fuel load greens up as the fire season progresses. And then those greened up firebreak may not hold by the end of the season.” Trevor warns. If June is dry, then we can expect a more significant fire season as heavier fuels dry out much quicker.
What is a Fire Break?
Fire breaks are an essential part of readiness during a fire season. They are very seldom designed to stop runaway fires, but they do provide a safe point from which to fight the fire from. In short, a fire break is an obstacle to the spread of fire, such as a strip of open space in a forest. Fire breaks should be relatively free of combustible material and they should be long enough and wide enough to reasonably prevent a laterally moving fire from crossing that fire break. According to the National Fire Act, a fire break should also not cause soil erosion.
What’s the difference between the Winter versus Summer fire seasons:
Trevor explains: “In the Western Cape during the past Summer Fire Season, even though it was very dry, there were only a few wildfires. This can be related to two things: massive fire awareness which leads to fewer ignitions, but also the degraded fuel state of the previous year’s severe fire activity, which was most likely the priory factor. Without fuel, you won’t have runaway fires.
In the past three years, we’ve seen that the fires in the Western Cape areas caused huge financial losses in the urban interface, such as houses which are burnt down. Although we try our utmost best to fight these fires to save lives, property and the environment, it’s just not always possible. Fires in the Winter Fire Season are often ‘out of sight’ in plantations or on farms, but they too can have high financial losses to agricultural sectors.
Fire Awareness for the current Winter Fire Season:
We could be in for a dry winter season, and we have more fuel than the previous two years. Therefore, the public needs to be aware that irresponsible ignitions can cause wildfires, not the fuel loads or weather conditions. Local Fire Protection Associations are urging landowners not to start firebreaks without first consulting with them. It is not too late in the season to still do your fire breaks and fuel load management. You can contact your local FPA for more information on how to do this safely and what the rules and procedures are.
With over 30 years’ experience in wildland firefighting, Kishugu Aviation is proud to be the sole aircraft supplier to Working on Fire, who in turn service the various FPA’s across the country. By working together, we are all prepared and ready for the Winter fire season.