The wild­fi­re puz­z­le of Knys­na

Knysna-Plett Herald - - News | Nuus -

The Knys­na and P­let­ten­berg Bay fi­res of 2017 are a land­mark in­ci­dent in the his­to­ry of wild­fi­re in South A­fri­ca. If we don’t want to ex­pe­rien­ce si­mi­lar di­sas­ters in our fu­tu­re we need this in­ci­dent to be trans­for­ma­ti­ve with an out­co­me of re­al chan­ge and col­la­bo­ra­ti­on in the ap­pro­ach of how we view and ma­na­ge wild­fi­re risk re­ducti­on and how, col­lecti­ve­ly, we ap­pro­ach de­a­ling with this risk.

We li­ve in a fi­re-dri­ven e­cosy­stem w­he­re the occur­ren­ce of wild­fi­re is in­e­vi­ta­ble. Wild­fi­re sup­pres­si­on is on­ly a s­mall com­po­nent of a much lar­ger and mo­re com­pre­hen­si­ve stra­tegy that is re­qui­red to pre­vent di­sas­ters in the wild­land ur­ban in­ter­fa­ce (WUI). Knys­na and P­let­ten­berg Bay are not dis­si­mi­lar to ma­ny ot­her ex­is­ting com­mu­ni­ties in the ur­ban and ru­ral lands­ca­pe that ha­ve the very re­al po­ten­ti­al for a si­mi­lar ty­pe of wild­fi­re di­sas­ter to occur.

The sim­ple a­na­lo­gy of a puz­z­le can be u­sed to ex­plain the cur­rent ap­pro­ach to wild­fi­res. I­ma­gi­ne a puz­z­le ma­de up of 10 pie­ces, which can on­ly fit to­get­her w­hen pla­ced in a spe­ci­fic or­der from pie­ce 1 to pie­ce 10. Our cur­rent ap­pro­ach to sol­ving this puz­z­le is ham­pe­red by us ha­ving be­co­me so­le­ly fo­cu­sed on pie­ces 10, 9 and 8. Be­cau­se of our fo­cus on t­he­se pie­ces, the fi­nal pie­ces from 1 to 7 seem to ha­ve been f­or­got­ten.


Pie­ces 10, 9 and 8 very sim­plis­ti­cal­ly re­pre­sent sup­pres­si­on ser­vi­ces, li­mi­ted fu­el-re­ducti­on stra­te­gies and li­mi­ted wild­fi­re plan­ning. Our cur­rent per­cep­ti­on is that if we can just fit t­he­se three pie­ces to­get­her we ha­ve it sol­ved. In re­a­li­ty, li­ke the puz­z­le, we are on­ly 30% re­a­dy for wild­fi­re and as a re­sult the­re are ma­jor gaps and fun­da­men­tals in risk re­ducti­on mis­sing.

If you a­na­ly­se fi­re sup­pres­si­on ef­forts and the bud­get spent on o­pe­ra­ti­ons du­ring the most de­structi­ve pha­se of the re­cent fi­res, and the re­sul­tant da­ma­ge that occur­red, it can be ar­gued that t­he­se ef­forts we­re mos­t­ly unsuccess­ful – not from a lack of ef­fort and de­di­ca­ti­on sho­wn by fi­re ser­vi­ces, but rat­her due to ex­tre­me fi­re be­ha­vi­our and a ra­te of spre­ad that ren­de­red the fi­re un­con­trol­la­ble. Li­ke w­hen a ri­ver is in ma­jor f­lood, the­re is sim­ply no stop­ping the sur­ging wa­ter and the sa­me can be said for a wild­fi­re.

W­he­re the­re is con­ti­nu­ous dry ve­ge­ta­ti­on, and the fi­re is fan­ned by a strong wind it can re­ach an in­ten­si­ty and se­ve­ri­ty that ma­ke sup­pres­si­on im­pos­si­ble. So if it is not al­ways pos­si­ble for fi­re sup­pres­si­on to be ef­fecti­ve, w­hat mo­re can be do­ne to pre­vent t­he­se ty­pes of di­sas­ters?


New ro­le play­ers to be broug­ht to the ta­ble must be the ho­me­o­w­ners, who need to re­du­ce the vul­ne­ra­bi­li­ty of their ho­mes to ig­ni­ti­on. This, ho­we­ver, can­not be ex­pected to hap­pen in a void. The­re needs to be a stra­te­gic plan put in pla­ce and im­ple­men­ted by land ma­na­ge­ment a­gen­cies, fi­re ser­vi­ces, lo­cal go­vern­ment, ho­me­o­w­ners and the in­su­ran­ce in­du­stry. If this does not hap­pen and we con­ti­nue on­ly to re­ly and pri­ma­ri­ly fo­cus on sup­pres­si­on acti­vi­ties, and li­mi­ted wild­land fu­el tre­at­ments, fi­re di­sas­ters li­ke Knys­na and P­let­ten­berg Bay will con­ti­nue to occur.

A ho­me’s cha­rac­te­ris­ti­cs in re­la­ti­on to its im­me­di­a­te sur­roun­dings prin­ci­pal­ly de­ter­mi­ne ho­me ig­ni­ti­on po­ten­ti­al du­ring ex­tre­me wild­fi­res. On­ly fo­cu­sing on wild­land ve­ge­ta­ti­on ma­na­ge­ment wit­hout con­si­de­ra­ti­on and mi­ti­ga­ti­on of ho­me ig­ni­ti­on vul­ne­ra­bi­li­ty is ex­po­sing ho­mes to se­ve­re risk.

Our p­ri­ma­ry stra­tegy must be the cre­a­ti­on of fi­re-re­si­lient com­mu­ni­ties and the un­der­stan­ding of wild­fi­re risk that goes with this. If we get this stra­tegy rig­ht we can then ma­na­ge the na­tu­ral en­vi­ron­ment in a mo­re ef­fi­cient man­ner, in tu­ne with its na­tu­ral li­fe cy­cle. P­res­cri­bed fu­el re­ducti­on bur­ning and se­lecti­ve­ly al­lo­wing wild­fi­res to burn w­hen con­di­ti­ons are fa­vou­ra­ble would be such stra­tegy, to keep fu­el lo­ads ma­na­ge­a­ble as well as re­du­ce the con­tinui­ty of fu­els o­ver lar­ge a­re­as.


This de­ci­si­on and task would be ma­de e­a­sier and sa­fer if we we­re mo­re con­fi­dent a­bout the a­bi­li­ty of ho­mes to re­sist ig­ni­ti­on. If we can im­ple­ment t­he­se ty­pes of stra­te­gies al­ong with ma­ny ot­her stra­te­gic in­ter­ven­ti­ons we can en­han­ce the sa­fe­ty and ef­fecti­ve­ness of o­pe­ra­ti­ons and the ma­na­ging of incidents.

We sim­ply ha­ve to work to­wards being in a po­si­ti­on w­he­re we can sa­fely de­fend pro­per­ty or e­va­cu­a­te the a­rea kno­wing that pro­per­ties will be sa­fe or fa­ce very li­mi­ted da­ma­ge.

An ap­pro­pri­a­te ap­pli­ca­ti­on of a wild­fi­re risk ma­na­ge­ment stra­tegy needs to be ho­lis­tic and con­si­der the functi­o­nal re­la­ti­ons­hips be­t­ween ex­tre­me-we­at­her wild­fi­res, lands­ca­pe con­di­ti­ons, and ho­me ig­ni­ti­on/de­structi­on.

In re­spon­se to the re­cent wild­fi­res in Knys­na and P­let­ten­berg Bay, the We­stern Ca­pe di­sas­ter ma­na­ge­ment fi­re and res­cue ser­vi­ces ha­ve re­que­sted Vul­can Wild­fi­re Ma­na­ge­ment to con­duct a stra­te­gic a­na­ly­sis of the in­ci­dent in or­der to pro­vi­de con­structi­ve re­com­men­da­ti­ons on how we can mo­ve for­ward from this in­ci­dent to put in pla­ce pro­acti­ve me­a­su­res, to en­s­u­re we can build mo­re re­si­lient com­mu­ni­ties.

Vul­can Wild­fi­re Ma­na­ge­ment is ho­ping that re­pre­sen­ta­ti­ves from all the key ro­le play­ers can co­me to­get­her and work on a stra­tegy to cre­a­te wild­fi­re-re­si­lient com­mu­ni­ties.

* In­fo: www.vul­can­wild­fi­ / www. vul­can­trai­, T­wit­ter/@Vul­can­Wild­fi­re, Facebook/Vul­can Wild­fi­re Ma­na­ge­ment

P­ho­tos: Pa­trick Ry­an/Vul­can Wild­fi­re Me­dia

The Knys­na Heights a­rea with a view to­wards the He­ads af­ter the fi­res.

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