I am writing this in early August, fire season in our part of the bushveld where it is generally referred to here as Winter sport. In recent weeks I have been reading about heatwaves and the resulting fires in Europe. Although this is their summer, for an outsider from the southern hemisphere heatwaves in Europe are a little hard to get your mind around.
It is fire season here. Almost every day on one of the farms or smallholdings we see the smoke that indicates some farmers or small holder family is losing grazing, or perhaps a tools shed, an animal pen or their home. The threat is real. Many have invested in trailers outfitted with water tanks that can be taken quickly to the scene of a fire somewhere on their property or that of a neighbour.
Of course, so many fires do not start on their own. It is clear that we have a substantial number of arsonists visiting the area. The farmers and plotters, as the small holders are called, believe that the arsonists come from the shack villages and unemployed Zimbabweans in the area, but few are caught and no arrests are made. In our community, the prevailing myth is that those who are arrested are freed on bail the next day to continue their anti-social activities.
In the second half of our winter the grass is thigh deep and dried out. Regulations say we all have to cut a fire break around our properties to control the spread of a fire. The thought is sound, but the application is not always possible. Cutting perhaps a kilometre long ten metre strip of tough veld grass around your property takes a lot of work and if outside labour is required, expensive.
All of this was in our minds when the cattle farm adjoining our back fence caught fire. The fire crested the ridge on the cattle farm and put on a pretty spectacular display. The flames reaching some three metres in height, not bad for a grass fire. It swept down the gentle slope towards our property, straight at our house and outbuildings
Supported by a few neighbours, we drew ourselves up in military fashion to meet the threat. We were armed with garden hoses, sacks for beating the fire and buckets for pouring water onto it. We hoped not too much water would be needed. Fire season is the dry season for grass and the lean season for boreholes.
We need not have been concerned. Relief came from a surprising quarter. Not long before, the herd of Brahman cattle from the cattle farm had descended on our back fence and denuded it of a delightful display of black-eyed Susans. The mighty beasts had enjoyed the feast so much that they often congregated along our fence, waiting perhaps for the return of the flowers. During these visits they absent-mindedly munched the grass.
Until the day of the fire, we had not realised just how much grass they had eaten. A hundred metres of grass along the fence had been flattened with the earth. When the fire reached it, the flames shrank from a few metres high to less than ankle depth, then died. The Brahmans had destroyed our black-eyed Susans, for which activity we cursed them, but created a perfect fire break for which we are truly grateful. They still hang around our fence, hoping for a new growth of black-eyed Susans, but that’s all right with us.
Go read the story about the destruction of the black-eyed Susans here.