Knysna is known for its rich landscape of rolling hills, shimmering lakes, remote Tsitsikamma rain forests, and fields of Fynbos flowers lining the coast. But last month, Knysna became a scenery of fire. The impacts of the fire on people are well known, but the natural and environmental impact are still to be discussed. The city is now blackened and smoky, but glimpses of the striking nature still shines through. How will Mother Nature react to this jarring occasion?
As the fire tore its way through the town and forests, there was an obvious line of defense. The lush, indigenous trees stood tall and proud against the raging inferno. Species like Milkwood and Yellowwood did not burn as easily as the invasive species leading up to them. Trees like “The Big Tree”, an estimated 800 year old giant stood strong. This is why forests of Pine, Blue Gum and Black Wattles are now blackened ash while the Tsitsikamma rain forest continues its legacy.
Many of the invasive plant species that have not been managed in Knysna were ticking time bombs for a wildfire. Invasive plants cluttered the area in dense thickets that were a perfect biomass fuel for the fire to burn. Invasive species burn quickly and then the fire can go into their roots and burn underground, wrecking the soil. The soil that was inhabited by the invasive species now looks like piles of grey ash and feels like stepping in flour. This is dangerous as well because the possibility of a landslide in some locations is imminent.
Gaby Serfontein, a volunteer during the fires, said that the number one thing Knysna needs right now is more indigenous plants. Some companies are handing out free seedlings for Knysna residents to regrow while organizations such as the Precious Tree Project plants bio-mimicked forests. This will not only grow back the natural beauty of Knysna, but will create a safe border of powerful tree protectors.
South African’s national flower is the endemic Fynbos, a small yet rich floral kingdom found only on the coastal region. Not only is it a national treasure, it also plays a role in the beginning of humanity. It is thought that during the ice age, humans survived in the caves along the coast, eating Fynbos and oysters from the ocean. This nutritious diet is said to have caused the intelligence of our species. Archaeological remains were found in these caves from 164,000 years ago. Some historians believe that these humans could be the only ones to survive the ice age and carry on the species.
Knysna prides itself on the abundance of the flower on the coastline and the conservation of the species. This includes natural burning of the flower which helps with germination from the seeds that are left over. Fire also gives essential minerals through the ash. The natural fire is extremely important to preserve the species, but if it occurs too often, it can kill off the regrowth. Research has shown that under normal conditions, the flower should burn naturally every ten years. Lately, there has been an increase of fires due to climate change. This means trouble for the fauna.
Now, with the Knysna fires wreaking havoc on the landscape, the Fynbos could be vulnerable again. Luckily, research showed that most of the fire hit in areas where the Fynbos were in dense thickets that needed the regenerative fires. However, the increase of fire still spells trouble for the Fynbos that are just beginning the process of regrowth.
The Fynbos saved the human species, survived the ice age, and continue to endure along the Western Cape. Although the fires were destructive, the species will persist, just as it has for 164,000 years. Knysna will channel the spirit of their Fynbos and rise again.
There is more hope for Knysna as it pulls itself from the ashes and rebuilds. Knysna’s executive mayor, Eleanore Bouw-Spies, told the Sunday Times about the steps the council plans to take in order to prevent this environmental disaster again. They will adopt climate change policies, take measures to get rid of invasive species, and schedule more prescribed burns. The future is hopeful for Knysna as the community comes together to repair their beautiful home.
(Picture by Eden by Needin)