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Simon Pooley on the Problem with Cape Fires: Fynbos Must Burn Every 10 Years, but the City Must Not

Burning Table MountainSimon Pooley, author of the recent publication Burning Table Mountain: An Environmental History of Fire on the Cape Peninsula, has written an article for the Cape Times about the fires on the Cape Peninsula last week.

In the article, Pooley speaks about the previous fires in Cape Town, saying there have been fires on the mountain for as long as there has been fynbos on the mountain.

If attitudes towards fires, and the fires themselves, are managed well, Pooley says, they should be seen as a positive feature of a healthy environment. Unfortunately, even with the best management, there is the small matter of a large city of houses and humans very near by.

Read the article:

Fires are by nature sensational news, and nowhere else in South Africa is this more so than on the Cape Peninsula, where a national park protecting fynbos which must burn every 10 to 20 years is bordered by the country’s parliamentary capital city, which must not.

The fynbos has been here for millennia, and it has been burning for just as long. The changes to the natural fire regime of the peninsula first changed significantly when Khoikhoi herders began to visit seasonally to graze their livestock around 1 600 years ago, setting the vegetation on fire when they left to ensure fresh grazing for the next season. When Europeans arrived in 1652, they tried to put a stop to this burning as it threatened their houses and other structures, and to protect their crops. Van Riebeeck planted rows of sweet potatoes around his grain fields to protect them from these fires. However, the poor soil and windy conditions made it hard to grow cereal crops and many farmers turned to livestock farming. They inherited the practice of burning the veld from the Khoikhoi.

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