Table of Contents

1. Overview

Farmers are urged to:

  • make certain that fire-fighting equipment is easily accessible and in working condition
  • create firebreaks
  • participate in local fire protection association activities

A fire management plan for a property should identify:

  • the fire hazards on different parts of a property
  • the best position for fire breaks
  • areas where controlled burns should be carried out
  • a time table for carrying out controlled burns and for burning fire breaks

What are the legal duties regarding fire suppression?

  1. You may not allow a wildfire to spread across your land.
  2. You must report a wildfire that is burning on your land to your neighbours and the Fire Protection Association if there is one.
  3. If you are requested to help fight a wildfire you may not refuse to do so.
  4. You cannot interfere with or obstruct someone who is fighting a wildfire.
  5. If you are a land user, you should develop a fire management plan.

 

2. Burning your veld

In Africa, where lightning is common and people have used veld fires for thousands of years to improve the quality of their grazing, veld fires have a long history. Veld fires are also a controversial issue, however, and have been banned totally in some countries. The truth is that veld fires can be a useful veld management practice, but under the wrong conditions can also cause great damage to the veld. Veld fires are a good servant, but a bad master.

Veld is mainly burned for two reasons:

  • to remove accumulated organic material, particularly in areas with a high rainfall;
  • to combat or prevent bush encroachment.

When to burn

This is not only determined by the correct season of the year, but also by the amount of available combustible material. The right time of the year to burn is probably as close as possible to the first spring rains. By burning earlier in the year, the burned veld is exposed to cold and late winter winds, which can remove valuable nutrients in the form of ash. In addition, the stimulated grasses are weakened by having to rely on their reserves in order to survive without water for long periods. This is particularly the case if the veld is used as pasture. In both cases the presence of a dense stand of perennial grasses is important. By burning veld that is in a poor condition, the condition of the veld will deteriorate even further.

When burning to combat bush encroachment, it is important to have a good stand of dry grass beneath the shrub to generate a hot fire.

When not to burn

It is advisable not to burn the veld under the following conditions:

  • Never burn to stimulate green pasture out of season. This practice has the same negative consequences as overgrazing and will lead to large scale veld deterioration over the long term.
  • Never attempt to burn veld that is in a poor condition. This veld is already under stress and burning it will only let the veld deteriorate even further. It is preferable to only burn veld that has a majority of climax species and a biomass of ±3 000 kg of combustible material and more per hectare.
  • Veld in areas with a low rainfall (±400 mm per annum and less) should preferably not be burned. Should follow-up rains not fall straight away, the veld will take a long time to recover.

Types of fire

A fire that burns in the direction of the wind is generally preferred. When burning to remove declining veld, a “cool” fire is required. This can be obtained by burning on a cool day with no wind. The cooler the fire, the less damage is caused to dormant grass plants. When burning to control bush encroachment, a “hot fire” is required. This can be achieved by burning on a hot day with a low humidity. A hot fire on a windy day will cause the bush to be burned right up to the crown, but with minimal burning at ground level.

Source: Guide to Grasses of South Africa. Frits van Oudtshoorn. Contact him at info [at] alut.co.za (find further ALUT details under the role players heading)