By Ross Kettles, Operations Manager: Nuwejaars Wetlands SMA

The fires that have affected the Cape Agulhas region – especially those that burnt in the Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area (NWSMA), will have lasting impacts – some good and some less so.

A wildfire spread from the Agulhas National Park, our neighbour, onto the NWSMA earlier in February. We had a number of very stressful days as we tried to bring the fire under control. 

The wildfire burnt into our southern game camp and neighbouring farms. It took a concerted effort to protect much of our infrastructure, including the Buffalo Boma, built in 2009 to serve as a management area and viewing spot for the reintroduced buffalo.

While summer fire in fynbos is part of the natural system, we once again experienced the impacts of invasive alien plants.

They burn longer and hotter than natural vegetation – meaning it will take the environment longer to recover. While we run a major invasive alien clearing programme in the NWSMA, there is still considerable work to be done. Following these fires, this will increase dramatically, as fires stimulate the regrowth of these invasive plants. It will take more investment and time to address this challenge in the coming seasons.

It also became clear that the only way to fight a fire like this is to back burn. We were fortunate that the wind turned for long enough for us to undertake such a burn. Had it not been for that, we would have had an 8km-long line of fire crossing our landscape, with little chance of stopping it.

The wildfire also had an unexpected, and yet very positive outcome. It brought a community together to help – no questions asked, and no expectation of compensation.


Aside from the Overberg District Municipality Fire Brigade, and the Greater Overberg Fire Protection Association, people came from as far as Napier to fight the fire into the night. Local landowners brought disk ploughs and slashers (bossiekappers), which played a huge role in making firebreaks, to manage the fire, while many volunteers brought their own mobile fire units. It’s clear these farmers know what they are doing when it comes to fighting fire – and we were grateful for this incredible assistance and experience to extinguish the fire and limit the damage.

We were also reminded of a couple of key lessons when it comes to wildfire.

It’s essential to have firebreaks in place – also between neighbours. And a fire is never extinguished until it’s truly extinguished. The fire flared up a number of times as the wind turned. We’ve seen how fires can burn underground for days, sometimes even months after the fire has been extinguished on the surface.


Our sincere thanks

While the fire season has a long way to go yet, our sincere thanks to everyone who helped fight this fire in our region in February. We are eternally grateful to you.

Ross Kettles, Operations Manager: NWSMA