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4 September 2023 Media Release: Early heat waves hints at sweltering summer and increased fire risk in the Southern Cape

Media Release: Early heat waves hints at sweltering summer and increased fire risk in the Southern Cape

For Immediate Release
4 September 2023

“Weather patterns have been playing havoc globally in 2023 with extreme temperatures affecting large parts of Europe and America where record high temperatures were reached in many places and where communities were exposed to heat and drought waves which on many occasions lasted several consecutive days, limiting outdoor activities and placing demands on resources to bring relief,” says Cobus Meiring of the Garden Route Environmental Forum.

In Canada for example, but much like in Tenerife and Greece and elsewhere where thousands had to be evacuated, high temperatures led to completely out of control wild fires, and large parts of Alberta is still burning at this moment following the destructing of some 15 million hectares with several towns being evacuated and infrastructure destroyed, with South Africa being one of the countries sending teams of trained fire fighters to assist where they can in bring the situation under control.

Smutsville burning (Edge Community photo and satellite imagery)

The Southern Cape is just emerging from a very cold and wet winter, and the warm days experienced during August, which normally is a very cold month, did bring relief in some ways.

Unfortunate the recent high temperatures in the Southern Cape combined with strong wind is synonymous with increased risk of wild fire disasters, as the extremely unfortunate Smutsville fire at Sedgefield is a typical example of where some forty informal dwellings were destroyed in a matter of hours even with fire services on the scene.

Hot and dry winds are merciless in the way it dries out vegetation of moisture in very short time and all it requires is a reckless spark for a wild fire to erupt and burn out of control within an hour if not contained at the source as soon as possible, hence the term “golden hour” used by fire fighters stressing the importance of rapid response when dealing with wild fire and the urgency to not allow a fire to open up an indefendable fire line as experienced recently in the Free State and of course the Knysna and Plettenberg Bay fires.

Whilst climate cycles such as El Nina and El Nino are difficult to predict accurately in terms of their impact, it can safely be said that the former is associated with wet seasons and the latter with dry spells with high temperatures, which would indicate that the Southern Cape is due for a dry hot summer, although the climate in the region is still in transition as El Nino has not yet firmed up to full effect.

What we do know from previous experience in the Southern Cape is that we should rather err on the side of caution and focus on reducing water use, and landowners should do their utmost to ensure that their fire breaks and fire preparedness protocols and measures are in place, knowing that after an extremely wet winter biomass regrowth will be aggressive and encroach on home steads and infrastructure.

Featured Image Caption: Some 40 informal houses and structure were destroyed by an out- of control fire during hot and windy conditions/ satellite imagery indicates American and African areas affected by above average heat.

The Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) is a public platform for regional conservation and environmental management entities, and a think tank for climate change.