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by Richard Wadley

 

For many of us north of Vaalwater, the first weekend in October will be remembered for the recurrent fire that occupied our time and prevented those for whom rugby is important from suffering the humiliation of witnessing the Springboks suffer a crushing defeat at the hands of the All Blacks.

The fire started on the Friday morning (4 October) as a result of a spark from a grass slasher. Driven by a strong SE wind, it quickly crossed the road (Tarentaalstraat) and headed for a rocky ridge that made access difficult, both because of the terrain and the several farm boundary fences that converged on the highest point. Community response was, as usual, excellent; by 8pm, all the various fire fronts that had started up had been extinguished, with just a few spots burning away inside otherwise burnt-out ground. The wind had died down.

 

Fire in the Waterberg

Early Saturday afternoon (the curtain-raisers were in progress at Ellis Park), a dry hot wind sprang up from the East, found a few lurking embers among the rocks and in no time, the fire was raging across the western edge of the ridge and down onto the grassy slopes of the upper Melk River valley. Remarkably, the response to the radio-ed and sms-ed call for help was both prompt and strong. Maybe people had a premonition about the rugby result. But the wind was now stronger, the terrain tricky and a frontal attack on the flames impossible. Judicious back-burns eventually brought the fires under control by midnight and the fire fighters went home for some much-needed sleep.

But not for long. By 5am, a resurgent wind, now swinging around to the SE, stirred the coals (which had been neglected by the landowner) and the fire took off once again, more fiercely than before. A series of back burns, some good, others inappropriate, either only temporarily impeded the advance of the fires, now on several finger-like fronts, or contributed to the chaos. Yet the response for help again yielded many helpers, some from over 50 km away, several having had only a couple of hours’ sleep. Camps stocking valuable game lay in the fire’s path, as well as several homes and lodges. The growing number of separated fires and the area over which they were spread, made co-ordination and effective control increasingly difficult.

Some owners were panicky; some tired tempers were frayed; water re-supply was not always quick or easy. But the community spirit held; and great work was being done on several fronts simultaneously.  Wisely, a decision was made to call in Working on Fire (WoF). A team arrived from Mookgophong (Naboom) at about 5pm and was immediately deployed in combatting the principal advancing front head-on, accompanied where possible by vehicle-borne units (“bakkie-sakkies”).

The professionalism of the WoF team was inspirational. Well-clad, well-equipped, highly trained, motivated and co-ordinated, they set off in single file along the fire front with their backpack sprayers, beaters and head torches, methodically, systematically tackling the flames that were out of reach of the fire hoses. An effort was made to re-group the various (up to 30) fire units in the area, several of which had been doing ‘their own thing’ which, while commendable, added to the risk that someone might be caught literally, in the cross-fire.

 


In This Issue:

•    Annual General Meeting

•    Nomination for Executive Committee

•    The Fire Season Warms Up

•    Action to be taken when there is a fire

•    Accentuating the Positive

•    Travelling Wild Dogs

•    World Bank Abandons the Waterberg

•    Mammal Distribution Maps

•    Photo Contest Winners: Large Carnivores in the Waterberg

•    Waterberg Rhino Black Tie Evening

•    Information Sheets about Alien and Invasive Plants in the Waterberg

•    Member Profiles

Contact the Waterberg Nature Conservancy through
Heidi Carlton
PO Box 1224; Vaalwater 0530
082 336 8757

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

www.waterbergnatureconservancy.org.za

John Miller, Chair
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

!FOR SALE!

Share Blocks for Sale

There are a number of shares for sale in Hermanusdoorns Share Block.  As all shares have been issued, these shares are offered by individual members. There is a central website created with all current opportunities listed:
www.hdoorns.co.za

Farm for Sale

951 hectares of Waterberg bushveld. Spectacular escarpment views, mountains and valleys. Private nature reserve suitable for tourism, game ranching or equestrian uses, lifestyle living. Two lovely homes. Three guest chalets. Pool. Abundant water. Varied and plentiful birdlife and game. Remote, secluded.  014 721 0063.  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Table/Chairs For Sale

Dining Room Set, Handmade Solid Teak 8-Seater suitable for a big lodge dining room.  The "Big Five" are hand-carved into the table top (underneath glass). The chairs depict the "Big Five" on the backrests. It sits eight people with ease.  R24 000 neg.  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
082 870 8686; 012 542 1026.

Conservancy for Sale


    Annual General Meeting

Date: Thursday, 14 November 2013
Time: 2:00 pm
Note New Venue: NG Kerk Vaalwater
from 4-way stop in town toward Melkrivier
turn left at third street (small sign on right says N.G. Kerk)
go one block; church is on the corner

Guest Speaker: David Johnson
Too Much Consumption, Too Many People.
Why environmentalists must change their approach to population.

When practicing law in the UK, Hong Kong, Ireland and South Africa, David’s work focussed on securing planning permission for large infrastructure projects and their environmental issues.  He was always fascinated by some of the less obvious impacts of the developments he worked on.  In June 2012 he closed his successful Cape Town legal practice and began research on the project he launched in April 2013: Too Much Too Many.

Human population and consumption growth are having profound and dramatic impacts on South African people, landscapes, wildlife and culture, but the topic is largely taboo.  This need not be the case, if only we’d change the way we discuss it. Environmentalists need to change what they say and do - fast.

Population writing is often divided between those who think we should worry most about population growth (generally in poor countries), and those who think consumption growth in the wealthy nations is a bigger concern.  Through using diverse example impacts from across the nation, I hope to set out a new way of looking at this controversial topic and how we need to update our thinking.  From elephant contraception in the Waterberg to agriculture in the Cape, mining in Mapungubwe, rape in rural Venda and the rubbish dump where the human scavengers all have iPhones, I hope to convince you of why this topic needs to be looked at afresh.

plus
Chairman’s Report and Financial Report
plus
Waterberg Conservationist of the Year
Vaalwater Community Champion
and more.

Extra Special Food and Refreshments Available

RSVP to Heidi Carlton by Tuesday 12 November 2013

THERE HAVE BEEN SEVERAL SERIOUS FIRES RECENTLY.  WE CAN’T DO ANYTHING ABOUT THOSE CAUSED BY LIGHTNING, BUT AT LEAST TWO FIRES WERE CAUSED BY MAN – SPARKS FROM A SLASHER HITTING A ROCK AND SPARKS FROM A WELDING MACHINE.  IT IS NOT WISE TO SLASH AND WELD IN THE BUSH AT THIS TIME OF YEAR
Nomination for Executive Committee

We are open for nominations for membership of the Executive Committee for 2014.  Nominations must be in writing and must be received by the Secretary at least thirty days prior to the Annual General Meeting, which means no later than Monday 14 October.  Nominations must be signed by one of the members entitled to vote, as well as by the nominee confirming his acceptance of the nomination. Emails accepted.

The Fire Season Warms Up
by Richard Wadley

For many of us north of Vaalwater, the first weekend in October will be remembered for the recurrent fire that occupied our time and prevented those for whom rugby is important from suffering the humiliation of witnessing the Springboks suffer a crushing defeat at the hands of the All Blacks.

The fire started on the Friday morning (4 October) as a result of a spark from a grass slasher. Driven by a strong SE wind, it quickly crossed the road (Tarentaalstraat) and headed for a rocky ridge that made access difficult, both because of the terrain and the several farm boundary fences that converged on the highest point. Community response was, as usual, excellent; by 8pm, all the various fire fronts that had started up had been extinguished, with just a few spots burning away inside otherwise burnt-out ground. The wind had died down.

Early Saturday afternoon (the curtain-raisers were in progress at Ellis Park), a dry hot wind sprang up from the East, found a few lurking embers among the rocks and in no time, the fire was raging across the western edge of the ridge and down onto the grassy slopes of the upper Melk River valley. Remarkably, the response to the radio-ed and sms-ed call for help was both prompt and strong. Maybe people had a premonition about the rugby result. But the wind was now stronger, the terrain tricky and a frontal attack on the flames impossible. Judicious back-burns eventually brought the fires under control by midnight and the fire fighters went home for some much-needed sleep.

But not for long. By 5am, a resurgent wind, now swinging around to the SE, stirred the coals (which had been neglected by the landowner) and the fire took off once again, more fiercely than before. A series of back burns, some good, others inappropriate, either only temporarily impeded the advance of the fires, now on several finger-like fronts, or contributed to the chaos. Yet the response for help again yielded many helpers, some from over 50 km away, several having had only a couple of hours’ sleep. Camps stocking valuable game lay in the fire’s path, as well as several homes and lodges. The growing number of separated fires and the area over which they were spread, made co-ordination and effective control increasingly difficult.

Some owners were panicky; some tired tempers were frayed; water re-supply was not always quick or easy. But the community spirit held; and great work was being done on several fronts simultaneously.  Wisely, a decision was made to call in Working on Fire. A team arrived from Mookgophong (Naboom) at about 5pm and was immediately deployed in combatting the principal advancing front head-on, accompanied where possible by vehicle-borne units (“bakkie-sakkies”).

The professionalism of the WoF team was inspirational. Well-clad, well-equipped, highly trained, motivated and co-ordinated, they set off in single file along the fire front with their backpack sprayers, beaters and head torches, methodically, systematically tackling the flames that were out of reach of the fire hoses. An effort was made to re-group the various (up to 30) fire units in the area, several of which had been doing ‘their own thing’ which, while commendable, added to the risk that someone might be caught literally, in the cross-fire.

By 8pm, the principal front was extinguished and attention was focused on a long (5km plus), eastward-moving fire that was advancing slowly into the wind up a rocky slope. The WoF team, accompanied by a squadron of at least 15 vehicles negotiated its way slowly up the slope in the dark, over rocks and stumps and holes, until it reached the front. Once more, the WoF members, now brightly visible in their reflective overalls and headlamps, set off across the ridge systematically
extinguishing the flames as they went, with a subordinate group following behind to kill off the embers. Fortuitously (the owner being nowhere to be seen), someone found a track that paralleled the fire front; and soon, the vehicles were roaring along it, eventually able to use it as a line from which to run a back-burn. By 10pm, it was all over. The WoF team would remain – all night if need be – to ensure that any re-ignition was quashed immediately and that the edge of the fire was truly extinguished. The rest of us drove gratefully home, some to beds (and families) that had not seen much of them the last three days.

I’d like to pay tribute to two people in particular for their efforts that weekend: Quintus Enslin, on whose farm the fire had started (and to which it almost returned two days later having described a full circle); and Thupa Seegers, farmer and Chair of the local Farmers’ Association. Their calm, reasoned leadership, willingness to take calls and ability to direct fighters to where help was most needed, was exceptional They must have had the least sleep of anyone involved, yet they managed to keep their cool throughout. Thanks guys.

And then there was the WoF team. These men and women are quite outstanding and I’ve no doubt provided an inspiration to everyone present. They knew exactly what to do and wasted no time in getting on with it: a well-trained and –equipped unit of almost military quality, yet good-humoured and without a hint of arrogance. I was reminded of the enormous benefit of being a member of the local Fire Protection Association, which entitles one to make use of WoF. Membership costs R1 per hectare per annum (up to a maximum of R1000; or R1500 if there are commercial lodges); and the only additional cost of bringing in a WoF team is that of transport. If enough people around Vaalwater were to join an FPA, WoF would find it worthwhile to station a team in Vaalwater itself, which would result in faster response times and lower transport costs. To me, it’s a no-brainer: the cheapest insurance on the market, courtesy of the taxpayer.