06 March, 2014

Fire on our mountain in March 2009

- 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.
To read or leave comments, either click the word Comments below, or click this post's title)

22 comments:

  1. My skin tingles and grows cold reading this.

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    1. my heart goes out to the firefighters - so often the weather is brutally hot, the terrain rough and inaccessible. They may have to go in via helicopter. But in the intervening years we have acquired a dedicated team of Working on Fire - job creation and Integrated Fire Management.

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  2. We had a similar experience here. Very stressful all of it. All because of a stupid human male. They did catch him in this story. Today, several years later, the mountain is still recovering from that devastating fire which moved close to my apartment at the time. However, it's all growing back and life has almost returned back to normal. The Aspens are the first trees to pop up......and then the pine trees.

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    1. the invasive Port Jackson wattle is also exuberantly happy to spring up in carpets of seedlings after a fire. Industrial weeding required by those same Working on Fire teams.

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  3. What an experience! I can't even imagine watching the fire all around you.

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    1. this year it is the sea fury up north that frightens me.

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  4. So glad no one was hurt or made homeless by your fire. I'm fascinated how nature's 'forgiveness' brings flowers after the fire and rain.

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    1. gentling over the hurts and sadness, and bringing hope and new life, is wonderful to experience!

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  5. That first photo reminds me of a volcano! Fire is the one force of nature I would fear the most, but your last shots show that nature is ever resilient. Mountains sometimes heal faster than people!

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  6. such beauty to come from such devastation, I missed you, I'm so glad I'm able to visit

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  7. Watching a fire like that leaves one with a very helpless feeling, specially when you think of the animals. We had a huge amount of fires around Port Elizabeth lately and I don't think there is any way that they were all natural. Anyhow, one of my friends went to check up on a Geocache of his after one of the fires and said how many tortoise shells he saw. Very sad indeed.

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    1. sometimes it is possible to rescue tortoises ahead of a controlled burn. I believe the bottom circle of hell is reserved for people who start wildfires in nature.

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  8. Amazing photos.. I can not imagine fire all around you. Very frightening indeed. I have never seen Elephants Eyes flowers before.. Very Very lovely flower and the pink color is so vibrant.. Obviously a flower with great endurance and strength. Judy

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  9. Dianna, I can barely read this post, it just brings back too many bad memories. Even though we didn't live up here when the massive Kelowna fires took place, my Sisters farm was too close to the fire for any of us not to worry from down on the coast. The devastation it left behind was terrible. It's still blackened, and bare. Now living here, every summer I am on edge, we live on the side of a mountain, and it's always in the back of my mind. We do what we can, but each summer there are wildfires around here. It's all part of living up here I guess.


    Jen

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    1. Our fires have always been alarming, but yet at a 'safe' distance. We've never been evacuated.

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  10. In North America, we have a plant called fireweed (Chamerion augustifolium) that blooms in tall lavender pink drifts after a fire. The color is similar to your nerines and oxalis. The stark landscape intensifies the beauty of those bright colors. -Jean

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    1. http://tanyasgarden.blogspot.com/2009/07/treasured-weed.html
      I remember Tatyana blogging about hers. Rosebay willowherb in London.

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  11. Hi Diana, just stopping by to say how delightful your blog is. Thanks so much for sharing. I have recently found your blog and am now following you, and will visit often. Please stop by my blog and perhaps you would like to follow me also. Have a wonderful day. Hugs, Chris
    http://chelencarter-retiredandlovingit.blogspot.ca/

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  12. Much too close for comfort, even if you had to use a telephoto lens to see the fire's front! We live in such beautiful surroundings, South Africa and California, but fire's a definite part of life. Stay safe!

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  13. I know fires are natures way of clearing and cleaning but they are so scary...nature is in control just maybe. I have family who deal with fires mostly caused by man's ignorance.

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    1. I have a nephew based in New Mexico who does fire-spotting.

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Photographs and Copyright

Photographs are from Diana Studer or Jurg Studer.
My Canon PowerShot A490

If I use your images or information, it will be clearly acknowledged with either a link to the website, or details of the book. If you use my images or words, I expect you to acknowledge them in turn.


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