Fire Burns Over 8,000 Hectares in South Africa, Devastating Ecology and Threatening Residents

A fire, which has already claimed one life, has continued to rage across parts of the Overstrand in South Africa, causing ecological devastation and threatening the safety of residents. However, winds have fortunately died down today.

The view from a Gordon’s Bay residence

Last night a mother of two young children in Gordon’s Bay took to Facebook to express her fear as they tried to fall asleep to the sound and smell of the fire burning around them. She’s not the only one who has been feeling unsettled and on guard for the past week.

This fire has been raging since New Year’s Eve when a party reveller in Betty’s Bay wasted a flare which set the mountains alight. A 34-year-old man has been arrested.

Early this morning, Inge Andrea Meischke Elliott told SAPeople:

The wind is still gusting fairly strongly and that is the danger. Over seven thousand hectares (8270ha) have already burned from Betty’s Bay, Pringle Bay, onto Hangklip and Rooiels. We’ve seen helicopters flying up to scoop water to drop onto the fire. We’ll be praying that the wind changes direction or dies down.

Later this morning Inge said: “Thank God the wind has died down today! We were in panic mode last night.”

A unified command press release -approved by Overstrand Municipality, Cape Nature and Overberg District Municipality – was published yesterday evening by the Greater Overberg FPA (Fire Protection Association), confirming that 80% of two active fire lines have fortunately now been contained and a “huge amount of mop up” is being done to ensure no flare up occurs.

UPDATE: The Overberg FPA has retracted their original report in the media release that 10 antelope “had to euthanized due to injuries sustained trying to escape this wildfire”. Overberg FPA said Wednesday morning: “We are retracting this statement – and we apologise for any inaccurate communication that took place, and any trauma caused.”

According to the press release 8,270 hectares have burned.

Traffic officials are diverting traffic away from Gordon’s Bay at the R44 turnoff towards Kleinmond. Motorists still have access to Kleinmond and Betty’s Bay on the R44.

The latest status of the Kogel Bay Fire and Betty’s Bay Fire is:

Kogel Bay Fire – Division E
The fire has moved into the Steenbras catchment and burning actively. All efforts focused to stop the further spread of this line into the Steenbras catchment within the City of Cape Town’s boundaries. The City confirmed currently no structure or communities are threatened.

Betty’s Bay
From 09:00 on Tuesday a major flare-up, again, in the Disa Gorge with risk of spread to Harold Porter Botanical Garden. Specialist teams with aerial support contained the flare-up and continue working the long line on Platberg.
– The Betty’s Bay interface with semi-rural/urban boundary is out and been out for 24 hours.
– Lines from Betty’s Bay to Rooi Els (Divisions’ B, C & F) are still cold (more than 48h). Fire services are monitoring these areas.

Yesterday, 92 fire fighters were deployed, along with six choppers and two Working on Fire Fixed Wing bombers.

Devastating impact on nature

“The Kogelberg Nature Reserve Complex is covered in critically endangered Kogelberg Sandstone Fynbos – and more than 8,000 hectares have burnt already. The Kogelberg Nature Reserve Fynbos should burn every 17 years. The Fynbos burning now is only between 8 and 12 years old. This is devastating for Fynbos species, and their ability to recover,” said the press release.

The Boland Mountain Complex is also classified as a strategic water source area which provides good quality water for the Cape Metropolitan Area BUT intense and too frequent fires can decrease the rate of infiltration by destroying the litter and organic layers in the soil, resulting in run-off and less water entering the dams, they said.

The SPCA is working with the fire fighting teams.

Remaining risk of fire

The risk of the remaining active fire lines is based on a predicted wind direction change, which “if not contained by Wednesday night, will drive the fire back in a fuel rich environment which makes containment extremely difficult and challenging. The result of such a spread will lead to further ecological damage, threat to the agricultural area in the Elgin basin and Steenbras Dam plantation,” said the Overberg FPA in the press release.

Gordon’s Bay resident Annette Beller-Sogor posted photos of the firefighters (see below) and said, on behalf of all residents: “A big Salute to all the brave tirelessly working / flying pilots and ground crews battling with the flames in the Greater Overberg FPA Bettysbay Pringlebay Rooiels, Western Cape, South Africa…since start of 2019…. it’s so good to hear the sound of your choppers keeping us safe….! Gordons Bay Community/ Gordon’s Bay. THANK YOU!”

#BettysBayFire update 8/1/19 15.00Around 80% of the fire has been contained, with 2 active fire lines. A major…

Posted by Greater Overberg FPA on Tuesday, January 8, 2019

A big Salute to all the brave tirelessly working / flying pilots and ground crews battling with the flames in the…

Posted by Annette Beller-Sogor on Tuesday, January 8, 2019

View Justin Sullivan’s photos of the Betty’s Bay Fire, and please donate