Garden Route District Municipality and partners seeking long-term solutions to avert a repeat of regional wildfire disasters

November 2019 

Reflecting upon the loss of life, property and infrastructure during the 2017 and 2018 wildfire disasters in the Garden Route, the Garden Route District Municipality hosted a meeting with key government departments and land managers early November to review regional fire preparedness, as well as the state of the regional environment in terms of invasive alien plants which provide high fuel load levels to wildfires.

Says Gerhard Otto of the Garden Route Disaster Management Centre, “Informed decision-making in planning for a safer Garden Route is crucial and it must be based on available data on fire risk and the prevalence of invasive alien plants. Data is crucial when planning around the possibility of wildfires, as the data tells fire managers where the likelihood of fires are the highest, or where infrastructure and humans may be in harm’s way in a wildfire scenario, and how to prioritise around what is present on the ground.”

Paul Buchholz from the Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI) presented data sets on vegetation patterns along the Garden Route and explained some of the challenges in this regard. According to Buchholz,  the required data is not always readily available for affected landscapes, with vegetation patterns that are continuously in transition because of changing types of vegetation, reduced rainfall and climate change”.

Continues Otto: “Following a rigorous tender process in order to appoint spatial data specialists, the GRDM is in the process of collating more accurate environmental data, and this data should become available in 2020”.

“Costing models hint at billions of rand that is required to clear the Garden Route of invasive alien plants. Under the circumstances, it is important to prioritise danger zones, and address those areas first and maintain managing them within existing funding streams,” concludes Otto.

The meeting included representatives from all the fire departments from the respective Garden Route Municipalities, Eskom, SANParks, the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, the Southern Cape Fire Protection Association, the Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI), private forestry, the Department of Agriculture, the Garden Route Disaster Management Centre and Working on Fire.

The Garden Route cannot afford a repeat of the wildfire disaster of recent years. Spatial data can be extremely valuable in identifying high priority areas and potential hazards in order to reduce fire risks.

Written by Marti Kirstein