Table Mountain catches fire

The biggest bushfire in 15 years in South Africa’s Western Cape has been accompanied by record breaking heat.

Fag break
A break from firefighting in the fynbos of the Western Cape [epa]

The bushfire raging around Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain has been contained by firefighters now after four days of fighting the blaze.

The Western Cape fire started in Farmer Peck’s Valley adjacent to the seaside suburb of Muizenberg, known for its surf and sharks.

The blaze spread quickly and gained strength owing to strong southeasterly winds typical of Cape summer weather.

The wind was strong enough to ground the helicopters needed to douse the flames with seawater.

Cape Point recorded an easterly wind of 95kph, gusting to 113kph, on Sunday, the day the fire took off. At the same time, Table Bay was registering a steady 50kph westerly wind, gusting to 90kph.

The fire was accompanied, and helped, by a heatwave culminating on Tuesday in record breaking temperatures.

Vioolsdrif, near the Namibian border hit 45C. In Cape Town itself, a 55-year-old record was broken as the thermometer recorded 42.4C.

Even Cape Point, exposed to the ocean, beat its 54-year record by nearly three degrees and notched up 39.3C.

Many houses have been burnt down, along with a hotel, but no fatalities have been reported.

Distinctive vegetation

There was also damage to vineyards as the blaze swept through the fire-prone “fynbos”, the distinctive vegetation of the southwestern Cape.

This vegetation type has been subjected to fire for millennia – it is part of the life cycle and the optimum fire interval is 10-14 years.

Although there are fires every year in the Cape’s vegetation, the last significant widespread fire was 15 years ago, so that fits the pattern.

Fire is a keystone process without which many plants in the fynbos would not be able to regenerate, produce offshoots or reproduce.

Fire lilies will flower less than two weeks after a fire, their flowering being stimulated by the smoke. This may be the first pretty sign of the next regeneration.

Source: Al Jazeera