Around R2m spent on firefighting efforts on Kleinmond blaze

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Over 5 000 hectares of fynbos and plantations have been damaged. (Overstrand Municipality, Facebook)
Over 5 000 hectares of fynbos and plantations have been damaged. (Overstrand Municipality, Facebook)
  • At least R2 million was spent on firefighting efforts during the recent fire in Kleinmond.
  • The fire destroyed around 5 400ha of forest and fynbos.
  • An investigation into the cause of the fire is currently under way.

At least R2 million was spent fighting a fire that raged in Kleinmond in the Western Cape over several days earlier this month.

The fire broke out in the Western Cape coastal town on Saturday, 8 January, and caused the closure of the R44 while threatening the luxury Arabella Hotel, Golf and Spa.

The blaze started in Highlands in an old pine plantation of the national Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs. Firefighters struggled to quell the blaze for four days.

An investigation into the fire was currently under way, said Wouter Kriel, spokesperson for Western Cape Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning MEC Anton Bredell.

At least 5 400ha of land was destroyed in the fire, some of which was forest and fynbos farms.

"Agricultural damages were relatively limited, with 10ha of commercial fynbos being reported as affected. We were very fortunate to not have had any human casualties, which remains the number one concern in any disaster situation," said Kriel.

While the province was still tallying the total cost of the fire, at least R2 million was spent on firefighting efforts.

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"At the crux of the operation were five aerial units deployed and up to 200 firefighters active on the ground. This came at an approximate firefighting cost of R2 million. The Western Cape Disaster Management Centre allocated a cost of R300 000 to the operation, and there will be more costs associated with all the different entities involved," he said.

The provincial government had a budget of R15 million for disasters such as the Kleinmond fire, added Kriel.

The fire also comes with an environmental cost, explained Deon Rossouw, CapeNature Integrated Catchment Specialist, Disaster and Climate Response.

While the cost of fire suppression was well over R1 million, it was more difficult to quantify the loss of ecosystem services, said Rossouw.

"Because it is difficult to determine the rand value of fynbos, you need to look at what services fynbos delivers, such as pollination, habitat and tourism. All add value to the intrinsic cost of fynbos,” he said.

Fires can have a positive impact on fynbos if managed correctly, explained Rossouw.

"The fire burned through veld that was aged between seven and 11-years-old. In fynbos, any fire that burns an area where the veld is 10 years or less does damage to the vegetation. Some species have not even had time to seed yet," said Rossouw.

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"A healthy reserve or veld community needs old veld, young veld and middle-aged veld... CapeNature is re-looking at the need for ecological burns and possibly sacrificing young veld in order to get a better veld mosaic in the future. This is an incredibly delicate operation as there are some species within the veld that are locally endemic and may become locally extinct if they are not managed correctly."

The Western Cape is in the midst of its fire season, which takes place during the hot, dry and windy summer months, and, on average, sees between 17 000 and 20 000 fires each year.

"Kleinmond once again demonstrated a few salient facts we have learnt over the past 10 years: deploy expensive aerial support sooner than later, as this can be the difference between a small local fire and a runaway wildfire, and teamwork between different firefighting entities is absolutely crucial," said Kriel.

"We have developed a system where command centres with clear leadership structures are quickly established, so we can first and foremost focus on the disaster at hand and worry about costs and protocol afterwards," said Kriel.

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