by Diana Studer
- gardening for biodiversity
If you live, as we do, and did in Camps Bay where mountain / wild / forest fires are a part of life. Then you will recognise that rising sense of unease. It was March 2009 and I could smell smoke – not a farmer burning the stubble (sadly they still do, despite global weirding), nor an insane neighbour burning garden waste or autumn leaves. The light was strange, hazy to the sun, because there was so much smoke in the air. Where was the fire? People shared what they knew, from the farmer up on the mountain and nature conservation officials to TV and newspapers.
|Where's the fire?|
|Burning down the valley on Olifantskop|
Then it got closer. You could see the walls of flame! Sheets of flame. Leaping down the mountain in wanton abandon, as you watched, in helpless horror. Our whole elephant was on fire, not just the head which we see, but also his whole hidden body. That was the 9th and 10th of March 2009. Came to the far edge of the fields, which separate the town of Porterville from the mountain. But no homes were damaged, no people hurt.
I remember once looking from my mother's Camps Bay window up to the cable car end of Table Mountain. The fire began at the top and there are many Mediterranean pine trees on the slopes. As the fire burnt down, caught the top of a tree, and it fell - so the fire hopped briskly down from ledge to ledge. The fear and horror is mesmerising.
Our own Camps Bay home was high up with just a few houses separating us and the Table Mountain Nature Reserve. The worst fire we lived thru there, burnt around us on three sides. Flames so bright we could have read the newspaper out in the garden by firelight. My husband, along with our neighbours, busy hosing down the roof and trees. Later we heard about people who leapt in their swimming pool, as the flames swept overhead. Sometimes it is a controlled burn, monitored carefully, to reduce the hazardous fuel load and rejuvenate senescent fynbos. Sometimes it is a force of nature, lightning strike. Sadly it's usually either arson or human thoughtlessness.
|Lucky the wind was still in March 2009|
|Hiking in the Groot Winterhoek in May 2009|
We had 42mm of rain over the next two months. We walked on our Groot Winterhoek mountain. To see the devastation. And because of the rain, to see the flowers which come thru after the fire has cleared the bushes and shrubs. Our fynbos is adapted to fire. Some seeds are so firmly adapted to fire, that the seed will only germinate when rain has washed the smoke down thru the soil. (This is why Kirstenbosch sells smoke primer with our indigenous / native South African fynbos seeds)
|Nerine flowering after fire|
|fire cleared a space for Oxalis|
Yes we saw devastation on the 9th of May. Scorched earth. The burnt remains of a tortoise shell. Sooty skeletons of once were proteas. But we also saw nature’s forgiveness of flowers. Proud Nerine and prostrate Oxalis. Both dressed in the same exuberant shimmering party-dress pink!
|in that grey and ash landscape, there are flowers to be found|
The story continues in November ... After our mountain fire, flowers
Pictures by Jurg and Diana Studer of Elephant's Eye (in Porterville, near Cape Town in South Africa)
(If you mouse over brown text, it turns shriek pink. Those are my links.
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