The Overstrand is home to beautiful fynbos-covered mountains and tree-lined paths adjacent to homes and businesses. It makes the district a wonderful nature-based tourism destination. But it also increases the risks of wildfire for those living here.
If you live on a property that is built in or near natural areas, among trees, or among vegetation that can catch fire easily, you live in a wildland interface area. And according to Louise Wessels, Manager of the Greater Overberg Fire Protection Association (goFPA), living here requires property owners to take extra precautions to ensure they are wildfire ready.
“Many people simply don’t realise the dangers of living in an interface area when it comes to wildfires. Because of the location, there’s usually considerable fuel available to feed a fire. That makes it much harder to extinguish such a fire.”
On 11 January 2019, Betty’s Bay residents experienced the destructive force of a wildfire in an urban interface. Wessels says, “In Betty’s Bay, wounds have not healed, some homes have not been rebuilt yet and memories are still fresh of the loss suffered. Only as a community working together can we make a difference and avoid another tragic event like the Betty’s Bay fire.”
A false sense of security?
While the fire department will always give everything to protect lives and infrastructure, she says that there’s a perception that it’s only up to these fire-fighting teams to keep people safe.
“We really encourage those living in the wildland interface, and even those who live in towns - especially in the Overstrand - to take steps on their own properties, to help reduce risks,” she says.
Overberg District Municipality Fire Chief, Reinard Geldenhuys, says the intensity of wildfires has changed over the past three decades. “The climate is changing, and as a result, fires are burning faster, hotter and more frequently. It makes it harder in many cases for teams to bring these fires under control.”
Wessels says there are a number of actions property owners can implement to help keep properties safe (many of these have been adopted from Canada’s FireSmart strategy and FireWise USA and have been adapted to suit the Overstrand’s specific needs).
The goFPA and Overstrand Fire Services provide seven tips:
1. Keep your roof and gutters clean:
Wessels says that leaves on a roof increase the risk of fire. “There’s often a build-up of combustible debris which provides a tinder keg to wildfires, making fire resistant roofing material less effective.”
2. Close openings, vents and eaves where you can:
Vents allow heat and embers to enter buildings, while open eves are exposed to heat and embers. “Try to find openings and screen them with corrosion-resistant, 3mm wire mesh where possible.”
3. Reduce risks provided by combustibles around your home:
Things like firewood, wendy houses and lapas provide fuel to wildfires. “Move your firewood away from your house. And don’t leave flammable material below decks and verandas,” she says.
4. Where you can, remove trees (especially invasive species):
Crown fires in trees often burn with such intensity that they ignite simply by radiant heat transfer, or when embers land on the building. Where trees are spaced far apart (6m or more), this intensity reduces. Indigenous trees are also less likely to sustain a crown fire, Geldenhuys says.
5. Cut back vegetation and remove debris around your home:
Where leaves have fallen in your yard, remove them. Mow your lawn often, and if possible, keep it well-watered. And create firebreaks using a driveway or walkway.
6. Keep your garden hose connected:
And if you have a pool, try to keep it full. These could be vital in fighting a fire on your property.
7. Choose your furniture carefully:
Try to buy fire-resistant patio furniture, if you can.
Overstrand Municipality’’s assistant fire chief, Angelo Aplon, adds, “Overstrand’s fire season starts in November. That means property owners, especially those in the wildlands interface, should use the next few weeks to reduce risks in and around their homes. We never know what the fire season will bring us. But it’s advisable to be as prepared as possible.”
Fire & Rescue emergency contact number
Any emergency and/or distress call regarding drowning or accidents or fires can be reported to the Municipality’s 24-hour Fire & Rescue Emergency only number on 028 312 2400.
Also, please do report any suspicious activity immediately to your nearest police station or call Overstrand’s Safety & Security Services on 028 313 8980.
For more on protecting your home, visit: https://overbergfpa.co.za/wildfireready/