Does your head fill with dinosaur images at the mention of ‘Pyrocene’? We tend to associate climate eras with the beginning of the earth but in fact climate is an evolving state and ‘Global Warming’ or ‘Climate Change’ are terms sprayed with gay abandon across millenial life. We’ve all heard them; we know our winters are warmer, the poles are melting, our water usage restricted and we should be using our cars less.
But have we considered the effect of global climate change on wildfires? The number of uncontrolled wildfires breaking out across the world is rising. These raging infernos require expending enormous amounts of resources to suppress. The damage runs into millions of rands when the loss of people, pets, livestock, homes, businesses, agricultural land and bushveld are added-up.
Duncan Ballantyne, Chairman of the Lowveld and Escarpment Fire Protection Association (LEFPA) says an alternative term for what we are living through is the Pyrocene, and quotes from the 2015 conference he attended in South Korea “The conference participants expressed strong concerns over the impacts of climate on fire regimes, the contribution of vegetation fire emissions to climate change, the application of fire in land-use change, the accumulating effects of global change on fire regimes, and increasing impacts of fire on society, notably on human health and security.”
An article published on the 11th July 2017, http://www.21stcentech.com/fires-british-columbias-heartland-u-s-west-reminder-climate-change-impacting-world/ unpacks the issues currently facing Canada and the USA and is concerning as we are seeing similar patterns emerge in South Africa. Dry conditions, abnormal heat and lightning strikes are combining to create an unprecedented number of wildfires.
Kevin Trenberth, a Climate Scientist in the climate analysis section of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, isn’t pulling any punches, “whatever conditions exist, they’re always exacerbated by climate change…always that heat variable, the increased risk.”
Lori Daniels, an Associate Professor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia agrees, “We are on the path that was projected related to climate change….And as we look to the future, the kinds of fire weather conditions we have now that we consider extreme….become more like our average conditions. This is very disconcerting and it is a serious concern for us.”
Daniels notes that the wildfire season is coming earlier, a trend over the last two decades. Hot, dry weather is happening now as much as a month ahead. The risk of mega-fires is real as the fire season grows longer and wildfire incidents and severity increase.
Author of more than 30 books, most of them dealing with fire, Steven Pyne of Arizona State University, has named this new era, the Pyrocene.
White River is centrally situated between plantations and orchards and flanked by bushveld. We have our fair share of winter excitement watching the Hueys and spotter planes dart across the sky, dodging smoke, and ‘enjoyed’ a ringside seat at the 2016 Sabie plantation fires. So what can we, as responsible citizens wanting to protect our property and neighbourhood, do in order to reduce our risk?
LEFPA has invaluable tips for dealing with fire, and fire awareness begins at home. For instance, did you know that you can and preferably should obtain a burning permit from LEFPA in order to burn anything in your backyard?
Backyard Burning Tips
A permit is free, call LEFPA’s Burning Permit Officer Zanele Chiloane 0860 66 3473 on the day of the burn to obtain one.
Choose and prepare a safe burning site
A safe site will be as far from buildings as is possible, away from power lines and telephone lines, overhanging tree limbs, vehicles and equipment. The site should have a vertical clearance at least three times the height of the debris pile and a horizontal clearance twice the height of the debris pile. The burn site should be surrounded by gravel or cleared soil (dirt) for at least 3m in all directions.
Have sufficient firefighting tools
Have a hose pipe at the burning site or a fire beater and a knapsack pump.
Monitor weather conditions during the burn
Weather fluctuations can turn a controlled burn into an uncontrollable wildfire. An unpredictable gust of wind could make debris burning spark a wildfire. Confirm that the weather is safe to burn (by obtaining a burning permit) and monitor the weather during the burn. Extinguish the fire if the weather changes and the situation looks unpredictable.
Remain with YOUR fire
Stay with your fire until it is completely burned out. If a gardener or staff member has been delegated to the task ensure that they have a means of communicating in the event of an emergency. To ensure the fire has been completely extinguished, drench the fire with water, turn over the ashes with a shovel and drench it again. Repeat several times. Check the burn area regularly over the next few days and up to several weeks following the burn, especially if the weather is warm, dry, and windy.
Keep it legal and environmentally safe
Do not attempt to burn explosive or highly combustible materials e.g. batteries, used oil, tyres, etc. Avoid burning plastics, paints, pesticide containers, treated wood and so on. Remember that the pollution caused by open garbage burning endangers public health and ecosystems. It damages not only the air quality, but also the soil and water – in your own backyard.
Do we really need to tell readers that lighting fires in public areas is a no-no, except in designated areas such as braais provided at picnic spots? We know you are smarter than to light a fire just anywhere or not handle a fire that you do light responsibly. The Knysna experience is a very real reminder that a fire can get wildly out of control very quickly, and our envirionmental elements favour the fire rather than suppression.
White River has no choice – we need to adjust to the Pyrocene.
LEFPA 013 752 6419