Warning after Midlands fires – our changing climate

Saturday afternoon, November 30, was a bad day for some in the KZN Midlands, as 27 fire incidents were reported in a band from the upper Karkloof to upper Dargle.

Smoke spirals from the numerous fires could clearly be seen by anyone travelling up or down the R103 between Howick and Nottingham Road.

Lions River Fire Protection Association Fire Protection Officer, Bobby Hoole, said most of the fires on Saturday were on timber property. Most were contained to the property where the fires began, but three or four did cross boundaries.

Bad day

“It was a bad day, dry, with high temperatures and winds, and it was a wake-up call that our weather patterns and fire season are changing,” said Hoole.

“There was a good response from the various land owners and community members in trying to assist,” said Hoole. He said community help was welcomed in the case of smaller fires, but in serious conflagrations they were urged to stay away because it could become dangerous and even life-threatening.

One of the fires in the Midlands on Saturday, November 30.

Hoole, who is in the process of compiling reports on Saturday’s fires, said in all cases they were caused by brush burning on timber properties which – with the hot and dry weather – resulted in flare-ups and the spread of embers into established commercial timber.

Withdrawn

Fire crews had to be withdrawn at times due to the danger.

Fire break preparation and controlled burning

Prohibitions on fires were lifted on November 11, 2019, “but all fires out of fire season are done so at your own risk and preferably with a risk assessment having been carried out”, said Hoole.

“Fire breaks are completed by 31 July annually, and an extension was granted to August 6, 2019,” he said.

Hoole said it was clear that climate change was having an effect on the management of fires and danger around fires.

An ominous looking sky in Balgowan in the late afternoon, on Saturday, November 30.

“Climate change is having an impact; fire seasons are lagging, relevant to the historic norm. Spring time and summer fires are now occurring where historically they never did before. This is in the past four years. It’s important for our members and the community to keep up to speed and be updated by their fire protection association.”

Chairman of the LRFPA, Grevin Price, said, “We’re fortunate in our area to have an efficient and effective fire protection association and Fire Protection Officer in Bobby Hoole.

“We’re also very fortunate that the vast majority of our members are proactive and assist neighbours without hesitation.”

Now read: It’s Hot Hot Hot in the Midlands

** Some of the primary causes of fires include: burning on the day before bad fire weather; fire breaks escaping from fire crews; Eskom line sway, which causes an arc and sparks; labour and land disputes.

**The Lions River Fire Protection Association (LRFPA) is responsible for the co-ordination and management of rural veld and forest fire activities undertaken within the boundaries of the uMngeni and Impendle municipalities of KZN. It was established in 2005 and was formed to allow the participants to enhance effective fire prevention, protection, suppression and other fire control measures within the respective areas at risk from uncontrolled fires for the good of the local community in general. The LRFPA is responsible for ensuring facilities and resources are available for the reduction, readiness, response and recovery from any forest or rural veld fire incident.

Area of operation

The area of operation is centred on Howick, with the rural areas of Hilton, Birnamwood, Merrivale, Karkloof, Currys Post, Mount West, Tweedie, Lions River, Dargle, Lidgetton, Balgowan, Nottingham Road, Fort Nottingham, Lower Lotheni, Boston and Impendle, forming the sub-areas within the area of operation.