Fynbos & Fire

Fire has and always will be part of the South African landscape. They occur as a natural phenomenon in grasslands, woodlands, fynbos, and sometimes in indigenous forests. South Africa has two fire seasons according to rainfall patterns. In the Western Cape it is during the dry summer months while in the rest of the county during the dry winter months. Fire seasons in the Western Cape commences on 01 November each year and the area is one of the worst-affected veld fire areas in the country, with fires a natural phenomenon in summer.

Most wildfires are started by accident by people being careless with open flames and indifferent to the consequences of their carelessness. A million years ago early humans began to utilise fire and for the last 100 000 years modern humans have used veldfires for hunting and for managing their environment. Today, fire is still employed in the management of veld and forest, to control grazing and habitats, and as a tool in the prevention of uncontrolled fires. However, small fires frequently escalate into disastrous, uncontrolled wildfires.

Credit: Ross Turner (ross.seals@gmail.com)

About 70% of the ecosystems covering South Africa are fire-adapted. They need to burn in order to maintain their ecological integrity. Fynbos soils are notoriously infertile and the recycling of soil nutrients is essential for fynbos survival. Fire is the motor that drives this cycle and fires at appropriate intervals are not only an integral but also essential part of fynbos ecology. Fires can rejuvenate the vegetation by removing moribund growth and recycling precious nutrients back to the soil. Fires also remove the chocking canopies allowing light to reach the soil surface and stimulates the germination of seeds. Some bulb species such as Cyrcanthus versticusos (True Fire Lily) only appear after fire.

Similarly some invasive alien plant species such as Acacia saligna (Port Jackson Willow) and Acacia cyclops (Rooikrans) also benefit from fires. Rooikrans seeds can remain dormant beneath the soil for several decades but will germinate rapidly after a fire.. In addition invasive alien plants increase the fuel load which increases the intensity of the heat of fires making it more difficult to control and dangerous to suppress.

Cyrcanthus verticosus (True fire lily)
Credit: Callan Cohen


Reporting a fire quickly can mean the difference between minor damage and total devastation. Fires can be reported by dialing 112 from a cell phone or your District Municipal offices.

  • West Coast District Municipality 022 433 8700
  • Cape Winelands Municipality 021 887 4446
  • Overberg District Municipality 028 425 1690
  • City of Cape Town Municipality 021 480 7700 OR 107 (landline)


  • Open fires are a common cause of uncontrolled fires in the Western Cape. No open flame or fire may be permitted unless in a designated area.
  • Preferably, do not start a fire when it is hot and dry, and especially not when it’s windy.
  • Never use flammable liquids such as petrol or paraffin to start a fire.
  • Do not make open fires close to flammable materials and vegetation
  • Do not leave fires unattended for any period of time
  • Do soak the coals of a dead fire with water (be careful of sparks and steam)
  • On certain days, recreational fires are prohibited, as indicated by the daily “fire danger” rating, which predicts the expected difficulty in putting out runaway fires. The higher the rating, the more dangerous the conditions. www.weathersa.co.za/fireindex
Bulbs flowering post fire on Table Mountain. Photo Credit: The Fynbos Guy

Content sourced from CapeNature and Working on Fire