The Tokai forest could be the next fire hotspot so Parkscape and the public are reaching out to ask for a helping hand in clearing fire hazards.
Tokai, South Africa (03 May 2021) – In the wake of the Devil’s Peak fire, the Simonstown/Redhill and Deer Park fire of 3 May, the public of Cape Town and Table Mountain National Park stakeholders are nervously looking at the mountain chain wondering where the next fire will be. Parkscape Chair, Nicky Schmidt, says she is deeply concerned it may be the slopes of Upper Tokai.
Schmidt says that in the wake of the 2015 fires, SANParks and MTO Forestry entered into an agreement to not only fell burned compartments of pines in Upper Tokai, but to clear-fell the entire area well ahead of the harvesting schedules. The area was closed to the public from March 2015 to 29 December 2017, and when it reopened the first thing apparent was the sheer volume of young Australian acacia and eucalypt species. By late 2018 the infestations, which included pines on the higher slopes, had taken hold in a dense and growing swathe of vegetation that blanketed the entire face of the Constantiaberg.
When Parkscape asked SANParks what they were going to do about the infestations, they were told that SANParks lacked the budget to clear the area on anything other than a two to three year block rotational basis – a period woefully too protracted to result in efficient management of the infestations. By mid-2020 the slopes of Upper Tokai had a new “forest”. It was, Schmidt says, nothing short of an ecological catastrophe, with conservationists talking about 50 to 100 years to deal with the sheer extent of the problem.
Schmidt says that Parkscape has warned about the fire risks on the slopes of upper Tokai since the fire presentation they hosted in 2019 in partnership with NCC Wildfires, the Cape Peninsula Fire Protection Association and SANBI-Kirstenbosch. Professor Coert Geldenhuys, the keynote speaker, presented a powerful presentation showing how landscape and wind patterns could drive any fire starting in Upper Tokai across the mountain chain to Constantia, Newlands, Hout Bay and Noordhoek in a fire that risked being far bigger than the 2015 fires.
When SANParks brought in several contractors in late 2020 to deal with the infestations, Schmidt says the community felt that finally their concerns were being taken seriously. But several months on, the slopes of Constantiaberg are now covered in a dense layer of woody fuel from the cleared infestations, increasing the fire risk considerably.
“While the infestations were a problem per se, at least the plants were green. Now we have a huge tinder box of hundreds of tons of fuel.”
She says she first raised her concerns about the growing fuel load before the alien hacking was complete.
“We were receiving images from users that indicated that the slash wasn’t being stacked for fuel reduction burns. Instead the some of the slash appeared to be laid out in windrows, which, while the intent may be to prevent soil erosion, is a real problem in the event of a wildfire.” She adds that global research indicates that the preference for fuel reduction burns is to avoid windrows and to create stacks. Meanwhile, Schmidt says, the rest of the slash is has simply been left lying in situ.
In the wake of the Devil’s Peak fire Parkscape has received still more images from concerned users revealing the condition of Upper Tokai.
“It is an absolute mess,” says Schmidt, “and, while we have asked, there don’t appear to be any plans for fuel reduction burns.”
Schmidt quotes one user who sent her images: “Tokai is a powder keg ready to explode. All we need is one spark and all the piles of black wattle will ignite with dire consequences!”
“One cannot underestimate the threat,” says Schmidt, pointing the 20-plus deliberate fire starts that occurred in middle Tokai between late 2017 and early 2018. “SANParks cannot leave the slash lying in situ. The situation has to be addressed, the fuel load must be reduced – and before we get to our next high fire season. Surely, with the memory of the Devil’s Peak fire still fresh in our minds, SANParks cannot ignore the potential catastrophe waiting to happen – one which risks destroying homes and other property in the area, including the Tokai Manor House, built in 1796, the Tokai Arboretum, a National Heritage Site first planted in 1885, the protected champion redwood grove planted in 1887, Chrysalis Academy and historic and new wine farms of the Constantia Valley.”
Schmidt says she appeals to SANParks to please reduce the fire risk that arises in Upper Tokai, and says that if there are such plans that SANParks please advise a worried community as soon as possible.