Fire season is on hand, as has just been witnessed by the fires that have been raging across the peninsula from Signal Hill through to Fish Hoek. While these fires are devastating and place human life and property at risk, it must be remembered that the Fynbos vegetation needs regular burning for its persistence.
The smoke from these fires is particularly important as a stimulus that gets dormant seeds to germinate. Many annuals and bulbous species flower and seed just after these fires where there is a high availability of nutrients and sunlight. They quickly return to the soil and may lay dormant for decades until the next fires pass through. During one controlled burn that we undertook at De Hoop Nature Reserve, there was no record of the block having been burnt in over 80 years. Immediately after the fire, species germinated that were either new to science or had laid dormant underground for the entire eighty years plus – that in my mind is utterly amazing and shows the incredible persistence of the Fynbos!
These annuals and bulbous species quickly return to the soil as larger shrubs overwhelm them and this in turn increases the fuel load for the next fire. The optimal fire-cycle for fynbos is between 10 -1 4 years. Shorter fire cycles destroy slow maturing species while too long intervals between fires lead to a dying out of species as the vegetation become moribund.
Sadly, as a result of arson fires and climate change where increased temperatures are igniting the veld, shorter than needed fire intervals are taking place and many species of fynbos are now at risk from this imbalance. The Western Cape Voluntary Firefighters do an incredible job in trying to contain, where necessary, these fires so that public safety is maintained and the correct fire cycle for the fynbos can continue. Please consider supporting them and help prevent unnecessary fires this season.