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Foresters tell why they light up trees

Thu, 12th May '11

A South African forestry company, working with the support of an Australian partner, is using low intensity fire in the summer rainfall season to lessen fuel-loads in pine plantations and has already shown the technique can slow and even stop uncontrolled wildfire.


Ben Bothma, Fire Risk Manager for Komatiland Forests, and Mike Cantelo, from the Department of Environment and Conservation in Western Australia, told the 5th International Wildfire Conference yesterday (Wednesday) that by using regular controlled fire burning off a third of the fuel load under trees they could dramatically decrease the intensity of wildfires.


Wildfire 2011 is currently underway at Sun City, near Johannesburg in South Africa and is being attended by 700 delegates from 73 nations.


“Our biggest risk is that a fire becomes so big and hot that it gets into the plantation canopy because then there is no stopping it,” said Bothma. This happened in 1994 and 2007 when thousands of hectares of plantation were destroyed by wildfire and several people, including fire fighters, were killed.


After the 1994 fires Bothma approached Cantelo for support in the controlled burning of fuel loads.


“It is a huge paradigm shift for a forester to set his plantation alight,” said Bothma. Cantelo was on hand to provide expertise as the pine bed under the trees were ignited, first using manual ignition and in later burns, aerial ignition. In the 2007 fire it was only the 500+ hectares of trees in the Spitskop plantation, where Bothma and Cantelo’s experiment was underway, that survived the inferno.


Dr Ben du Toit, from Stellenbosch University, is monitoring the health of the trees following the controlled burns.


“The only way we can control wildfire is by reducing fuel loads,” said Cantelo.


Issued by HWB Communications Pty Ltd.

On Behalf of Wildfire 2011

For more information please contact:

Evelyn Holtzhausen

HWB Communications

082 658 6007