How Kruger National Park is preparing for its winter fire season
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In anticipation of the upcoming winter fire season between June and October, Kruger National Park will embark on a few initiatives.
KNP general manager of communications, Isaac Phaahla, said fires were a common and natural occurrence in KNP. He said the Savanna biome (also referred to as Tropical Grasslands) and the Fynbos biome (Cape Floristic Region) were dependent on fires to keep the ecosystem functioning healthily.
"Savanna plant species evolve with fires. Some even rely on and are shaped by the regular burning of the veld.
Research has shown that regardless of the fire management strategy (namely active use of fire as veld management tool or active fire suppression), fires will burn in KNP as long as there is enough grass to burn. This is because fires are primarily driven by how much grass is available, which is also known as fuel load," he said.
He said KNP had experienced an exceptionally wet growing season this past summer. He said the veld has responded by producing high fuel loads. Fuel loads are dependent on how much rainfall fell in the preceding growing season.
"We are anticipating a lot more fires this winter. Usually, less than 10% of KNP burns every year, however, due to the very wet rainy season, it is expected that roughly 20% of the Park will burn this year.
“A large proportion of this will be controlled burns conducted by our rangers, but it is likely that we will also have unscheduled fires during the course of the year and these will be managed as they occur.
"We record, monitor and map all fires which burn in KNP using advanced satellite technology,” said Phaahla.
KNP has begun securing its firebreaks around infrastructure such as camps, staff quarters, entry gates and other assets, as well as burning and grading firebreaks along the Park’s boundary.
"Rangers and scientists are currently burning early-season fires to help break up the fuel load in the veld and reduce the risk of wildfires burning over large areas of the park.
“KNP has been part of the Greater Kruger Fire Protection Association (FPA) for roughly a decade. FPA allows for greater communication and administrative support for the use of fires as a management tool and to promote fire safety within and around KNP.
“Proactive fire management by reducing fuel load, burning firebreaks and preparing a well-trained and equipped team of personnel will allow us to be better prepared for this year’s fire season,” added Phaahla.