Safety issues in TMNP are not just crime related. Fire is also a key cause for concern in the buffer zones.
Reference to the burning of fynbos is regularly made when speaking of the restoration and ongoing preservation of the fynbos biome. Fynbos is a fire-maintained vegetation and has evolved with fire for well over 1 million years. Experts agree that fynbos requires regular burning, and it is acknowledged that different types of fynbos require different frequencies of burning and that the management process is both “complex and hell”. Recent research also demonstrates that the correct fires to maintain fynbos should be very hot and take place under conditions that are considered extremely dangerous for fires on the urban edge – i.e. high air temperatures and windy conditions.
What becomes a major concern in the buffer zones is the management and control of the fires – and one has to consider the risk of bring ecologically advantageous fires to the densely populated urban edges.
There have, over the past several years, been regular controlled burns in various parts of TMNP that have raged out of control – and none of this is helped by the proliferation of alien vegetation, such as various acacia and eucalyptus species, which SANParks seem unable to bring under control.
In May 2007 a ‘controlled’ burn at Cape Point blazed out of control. An eyewitness described the incident as follows: “We visited Cape Point that afternoon and were unable to leave via the main gate, because the fire had spread right across the main road. Traffic was diverted (including buses) along a small gravel road usually only used for hiking, and vehicles had to exit via Klaasjagersberg. Despite the massive size of the burn, it seemed that there was some control as sprinklers were set up and officials were on hand to guide tourists past the blaze. The appearance of fire-fighting helicopters was, however, worrying. Unsurprisingly, it seems that once again SANParks has made a massive blunder, for this morning we awoke in Scarborough to find that Cape Point was blazing with the gale-force South Easter driving the flames in our direction. Obviously the controlled burn was not properly extinguished and the timing, right before predicted South Easters, was appalling. It should also be added that the firefighters used sea water to douse the flames.”
In March 2015 several enormous fires swept across the southern and central section of the Park – costing the City millions, destroying several homes and causing millions of rands worth of damage to private property, and resulting in numerous injuries to firefighters and the death of fire-fighting pilot, Hendrik “Bees” Marais. Property that was not directly affected by the fires bore the brunt of months of ongoing soot and ash, resulting in numerous insurance claims. A forensic report commissioned by the City of Cape Town from forensic scientist, David Klatzow, is indicated as being “damning” of the actions – and inactions – of SANParks in managing the fires.
In 2007 Professor Eugene Moll cautioned that, “fynbos is a fire climax vegetation and there will be big problems in the future having management burns on the urban edge. Thus the whole fire proofing of the urban edge is something that to me has received too little consideration.” The fires of March 2015 would seem to bear this out.
As the preservation of the fynbos biome moves directly onto the urban edge, as it increasingly does in many areas, so the risk of fire and fire related disaster increases. It is worth noting that residents of Tokai, Zwaanswyk, Constantia, Hout Bay, Scarborough, Fish Hoek etc. have never been consulted about how they feel about now being forced to live so close to such danger. And it begs the question: to what extent are SANParks willing to compromise public safety in order to ensure the preservation of biodiversity? Surely in an urban park such as Table Mountain National Park a key concern must be for people and property.