Patch Mosaic Burning: A model to contain wild fires

During October, large parts of the Western Free State and North West Provinces recorded wild fires, managing to cause havoc and extensive damage to large tracts of land and livestock.

The cost of wildfires has a knock-on effect socially and economically. The 2017 Knysna wildfires was a prime example that cost the insurance industry over R2 billion.

Situated in the Eastern Cape, Knysna itself is surrounded by fynbos, vegetation and forests posing as a landing strip to attract fires.

It is such areas the South African Biodiversity Institute (SANBi) unit Biodiversity and Land Use project said was off concern. At a recent global ‘Partnerships for Sustainable Landscapes’ dialogue, SANBi voiced that the current fire management practices by communities and farmers at large were unsustainable.

With the South African Weather Service (SAWIS) warning of high potential heat waves across the interior, SANBi said its research proved that the use and practice of Patch Mosaic Burning (PMB) was highly efficient and had less impact on biodiversity.

PMB is a burning strategy used to “create a fine-grained mixture of different post-fire age patches, randomly spread across the landscape. The focus of patch mosaic burning is to create heterogeneity across the landscape while also reducing fuel loads” said SANBi.

This burning strategy is focused on mimicking natural fire scenarios by ensuring a farmer/community holding applies containment plans before the expected season of fire outbreaks occurs. These plans could involve fire management blocks like rivers, cliffs, and indigenous forests.

Fires according to SANBi were key ecosystem drivers in biomes, grasslands, savannas and were usually caused by lighting or by sparks from rolling stocks.

” Controlled fires are also often used as a management tool by land managers to help meet a number of objectives including reducing the risk of large-scale, destructive wildfires; clearing land for improved grazing; reducing bush encroachment; tick control, biodiversity and improving tourism objectives”

However, these forms of fire burning were considered primitive the dialogue heard.

According to the PMP concept, fire is applied throughout the year when lightning fires are likely to occur. Landscapes are divided into numerous patches, ignition of fire commences during cooler conditions with less absence of wind, relative moist soils with sufficient moribund materials intact.

Much like in Australia and United States (California), the Knysna episode was a seismic warning of continued increase of wild fires in the country. The Agricultural Research Council (ARC) warned of the cumulative fire activity during 2020 was higher in all provinces compared to Northern and Western Cape.

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