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Newsletter number 12: Firewise, snakes and donations
In this newsletter you can read about firewise through design, snakes for supper and what to do if you want to make a donation towards the REDI initiative. Raymond Smith is a well-known architect who has lived in Betty’s Bay for 15 years. https://raymondsmith.co.za
He has written an article in Village News, a Hermanus based magazine, which we are sharing with you with their permission.
Firewise through design
Although I am not a fire specialist, but rather a Senior Architectural Technologist and Designer and a Heritage Specialist, the recent fires in our region have prompted me to start researching ways in which we can reduce the risks that fires pose.
A local architect understanding the fire risk
Having lived in Betty’s Bay as a practising built-environment specialist for the past 15 years and having designed 20 structures in the Hangklip-Kleinmond region alone, it is time to take stock of the past by learning lessons from it for the future. Reducing fire risk by design boils down to how we should design and live with fire in mind and I wish to share some basic principles with especially those who must rebuild their homes and gardens after the latest fire disaster.
Think in circles
We can no longer build in the same way as before and expect different results. To start with, we need to become proactive in fire prevention by identifying fire risks in our area and then work towards creating defensible spaces. As a way of attempting to explain the concept and some principles involved, we need to visualise five circles. Each of these circles requires us to be continuously pro-active.
The first circle is your environment
The first circle is the largest and encompasses the broader urban landscape of our environs – the mountain, hills, streets, lakes, sea and fynbos areas around us. Observe these carefully on a regular basis.
Should you notice irregular activities or phenomena, report them immediately.
It may be aspects such as a fire hydrant which has become overgrown by vegetation, or alien vegetation which is getting out of hand, thereby providing major fuel for runaway-fires. Always remain vigilant and report concerns to the authorities. They are as interested as you in preventing fires. In fact, they have a specialist at hand who is tasked with identifying fire risks and implementing management procedures to reduce the risk on a continuous basis. We can all assist by being their eyes and ears.
The second circle is on your property
The second circle is your specific site or property. Ensure that the immediate area around your house is clear of unnecessary fuel for fires. Respect a minimum clearance rule of only stone, sour figs, buffalo lawn or other low-growth ground covers around the house. A general rule of thumb is for every 1 metre height in vegetation the minimum horizontal planting distance from the house should not be less than 2.5 metres.
The third circle is your house
The way your structure is designed and sited, as well as your choice of materials and finishes, could reduce fire risk or enhance it. The illustration below illustrates fire-wise design principles and provides a brief summary of the most critical principles involved in reducing fire risk by design, thereby creating more fire-resilient buildings.
The fourth circle is inside your house
The fourth circle is judicious interior design that creates a defendable space. Implement a principle of low fuel loads in every room by not storing unnecessary combustible materials. Reduce the use of synthetics as they can combust by radiation through windows. Internal louvres are preferred to curtains, for instance.
The fifth circle is how people live
The fifth circle, and the most difficult and unpredictable aspect of the chain of circles to manage, is everyday human behaviour. How we live, what we do or neglect to do, can make all the difference. When we make a fire for a braai, always douse the coals afterwards. Do not keep unnecessary combustibles in the garage such as petrol, paints, thinners, etc.
We can reduce fire risk by design
If we all work together by managing the various spaces referred to, it will go a long way in reducing fire risk by design.
Raymond Smith, Architect
Snakes for supper
Puff adders do not actively hunt, but lay in wait for their food to be served up in the form of a careless mouse or bird. In warm weather, your resident snake might visit your garden to check out the menu.
A puff adder is a venomous viper snake. In a biosphere we prefer not to kill it, but rather to stay on the stoep and take pictures, like Griet did.
If you want to send your puff adder somewhere else, contact your nearest mongoose, or call our resident snake charmers, Ernst Thompson; 082 333 1543 or Gert Coetzee: 083 658 2504.
Photograph: Mr Mongoose on duty; puff adder in trouble; Griet on stoep, taking the photograph.
“We have been very fortunate with the support received so far,” says Mark Butler, chairman of RESA. “We could establish a decent first response capability through funds contributed and donations of equipment.
“We do need to get more equipment and we need to maintain it.
“We spend the money only after careful thought and deliberation.”
If you would like to make a donation, please contact Mark Butler at email@example.com .
Please travel safely over the Easter weekend. Come and enjoy the lovely things Rooiels has to offer.
I hope you enjoyed reading this newsletter as much as I enjoyed compiling it - and thank you so much for all the feedback, it is always great to hear from you.
Kind regards from a chilly Rooiels.
Dine van Zyl
Newsletter # 9: Feedback on Firewise Day
It seems everybody did not get # 9, so here it is again:
We had such an interesting Firewise Day on Saturday. Many people have asked me to share the information, so I am going to be sending out as much as possible. As usual, it was also great to see other Rooielsers and we had a good chat in between the talks.
The introduction was made by Mark Butler, the chairman of RESA. It is appropriate to start this Firewise Day series with his speech, since Mark reminded us why REDI was started, who supports it and what the idividual team members do.
Introduction by Mark Butler
Good morning ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the Rooiels Firewise Day. For those that don’t know me my name is Mark Butler and I will be facilitating the proceedings this morning. We have a full and interesting programme and a lot to get through by 1pm. We want this to be an interactive event and there will be time for questions and discussions at the end of each speaker’s presentation. Firstly, a very grateful thanks to Elbi Bredenkamp and Thomas Koorts and Something Els for hosting this event today. It appreciated.
This event is a REDI event and REDI, which stands for Rooiels Disaster Incident Management, is a part of RESA and it is perhaps important to reflect on the RESA purpose and the journey it has been through to get to where it is now as this has led to the formation of REDI.
Making Rooiels a safer place
You will all recall the terrible time the village had in 2016 with crime and tragedy as a consequence of that. Through the concerted efforts of the RESA team, patrol group, blockwatches and the amazing support of the residents of Rooiels we have a sophisticated security infrastructure in place and have seen a dramatic drop in crime as we took control of our own village again.
The RESA objective is one of making Rooiels a safer place for all. We have seen 2 disaster events in the last 2 years with the Rooiels fire in March 2017 and then the Betty’s Bay/Pringle Bay/Kogelberg fire in January this year. Rooiels was spared because of the natural firebreaks that 2017 had created. In 2017 the RESA infrastructure and radio communication network provided invaluable support when all other communication went down and it was the same this year. It was through these experiences that we realised that making Rooiels a safer place for all was not just about security but also about managing situations where lives and property were at risk through natural disasters such as wildfire.
So what is REDI all about?
REDI is made up of a group of volunteers who have offered to be available to respond to disaster type incidents so that there is a first response capability in place in Rooiels. It is not a firefighting service but a first response capability which will hopefully help to contain any situation that may arise until such time as the firefighting teams from other areas can get here. It is also about having a degree of self-reliance as in the security activities of RESA. REDI will also act as the co-ordinator between the village and the Overstrand disaster management officials and will be the voice, eyes and ears of the village in any such future situations so that you as Rooiels residents will know what is going on and importantly will be informed about any actions that you need to take in those situations.
Learning from previous actions during an emergency
In the January fire we had an official from the traffic department driving around the village at 3am telling people to evacuate which was not necessary and caused panic, anxiety and concern. We want to ensure that does not happen again. In future REDI will manage the communications into the village and if need be evacuation procedures will be in place so that everything is done in an orderly and co-ordinated manner including ensuring that those more vulnerable amongst us who need assistance are assisted. It is far better to have one communication channel into and from the village than many different inputs resulting in mixed messages and miscommunication. While REDI is managed and administered under RESA it is a community initiative and interacts with and is supported by RERA, REC and REBC.
Rooiels volunteers saved a house
During the January fire a call for assistance was received from Grant Price who lives next to the road to the Buffelstal Dam between Rooiels and Pringle Bay. The fire was approaching his property and he had water tanks and fire hoses as well as a pump but needed assistance in using and moving them. A group of 5 volunteers offered to help and when the fire was getting close, went with him to his property.
The fire services were not that keen on the idea of the 6 people going to his house with the fire approaching but eventually agreed when they understood what the purpose was. The combined efforts of the volunteers, the fire services and his water and equipment saved his house. What this experience highlighted was that in situations like that it is vital to have the right equipment to do the job and for the personal safety of the those involved.
REDI started with many donors
This is where REDI started and an appeal was launched for contributions to enable first response firefighting equipment to be bought for use and service in Rooiels. Once again, the support received has been quite incredible and REDI has been able to purchase considerable equipment towards its first response objective. A number of our donors wish to do so in a low key or anonymous manner but they have all been individually thanked as without their support we would not have the equipment we see on display today. I will however publicly thank Johann de Jager who donated the trailer that will convey the water tanks and necessary equipment to where it is needed. It was a very generous gesture and is an important part of the first response equipment. I also think it is important to mention that the REDI volunteers who will be part of the active first response support have all bought their own personal safety clothing and equipment and this was a decision by them as a group.
Who are the REDI team members?
I wish to acknowledge the REDI volunteers who are led by Hilgard Muller who does so much good work for Rooiels. Hilgard is the co-ordinator and Peter Koning is responsible for operations communication and management. Dine van Zyl manages REDI communications, Linda Hiles is counselling support and with Dine has played a big role in today’s event. Rina Thompson is medical support. Kevin Phillips is meeting secretary and a first response volunteer together with Graham McCleland, Wolfgang Steinbach, Ernst Thompson, Leigh Elves from the smallholdings, David van der Merwe, Riel Buys and Mark Butler. In many ways they have all contributed to establishing what we now have in Rooiels as a first response capability enabled by the amazing financial support that has been given.
We have to be firewise
The wildfires in Knysna and in Betty’s Bay as tragic as they were, provided many lessons and experiences. One of the most important of these is about being firewise in our communities and this includes managing the environment that we live in. We live on the edge of and in fact as part of a world heritage biosphere. We love our natural environment but to become firewise we have to manage it so that we do not end up with a repeat of what happened in Knysna and Betty’s Bay. This does mean managing the vegetation in the village and on properties. It does not mean grass verges, although they are good fire breaks, and no naturally growing vegetation. It does however mean reducing the fuel loads wherever this will reduce risk to property and lives. Please be absolutely assured that REDI is very sensitive to all perspectives in terms of environmental and aesthetic issues in Rooiels.
Our speakers today will take us through a number of aspects of making Rooiels firewise and safer and at the same time maintaining the beautiful environment we live in. MARK BUTLER
Adopt a stubbie
Everywhere in Rooiels people are making their properties firewise. We do not want Eskom stubbies like the one on the photograph, do we? So please could you adopt a stubbie near you? Love it, nurture it, keep its ears nice and clean. Don’t stick a fork in the soil near it, just trim the vegetation around it. Thank you.
Cheers vir eers
May you have a splended weekend and please check that your neighbour’s visitors are making their braai fires responsibly. I know you do.
Newsletter No 10: How to be FirewiseDear Rooielser, 13th Aoril 2019
This morning there was a slight drizzle, then it rained and the dry earth soaked up the water. Soon all the plants will have new sprouts and the fynbos that burnt will rejuvenate itself.
Sitting on the stoep, one can smell the boegoe and pelargonium in the garden. The terns (Afr. sterretjies) are congregating on the beach, screeching against the roar of the tide.
Can this place of serenity really fall victim to an emergency? Can we have a Black Southeaster that rips off the roof slates? Can we have a high tide that crashes through the seafront properties? Can we have a cloudburst that floods houses and roads and cause mud slides?
All of these are possible; we have experienced them before – and so also is a runaway fire that could lead to loss of property and even life.
That is why I am so proud to say Rooiels is acting pro-actively. Every day one can hear the humming of grass cutters and electrical saws. The clearing is done with great sensitivity, proving that Rooiels can become firewise whilst maintaining its pristine character.
How to be Firewise
At our Firewise Day in March Ryan Heydenrych, director of Vulcan Wildfire Management explained to us “How to be firewise”. It was such an interesting talk and he has such a passion for his job that I wish you could have been there to hear it.
What struck me was how embers fly in a gale-force wind, causing new wildfires. These embers can also accumulate in a gutter, blow in underneath a door or into the eaves of your roof, lie smouldering there and cause the house to catch fire 24 hours later.
Ryan has supplied us with an invaluable PDF that explains everything about how to be firewise. To read the brochure, click on Wildfire Ready.
What to do in case of an emergency
Report the emergency on Blockwatch. It can be any emergency. If you panic and can’t think what to do, contact Blockwatch. You can even give a voice message if you struggle to type. If you do not know yet how to give a voice message on Whatsapp, please find out now. It could save your life.
You should be a member of Blockwatch Whatsapp group so that you will be kept informed during an emergency. The administrator is Peter Koning 08 2491 1463.
It would also be a good idea to be on Village People. Blockwatch is for reporting an emergency, while Village People is for discussing it and for general village talk. Contact Linda Hiles 083 226 0044, the administrator.
During an emergency we could lose landline and cell phone communication and many of us have opted for a radio. You can enquire at the RESA office.
Rooiels Fire coordinator 082 898 8202. (Hilgard Muller) and Blockwatch.
Overstrand Fire 028 312-2400.
Left: Rooielsers taking a coffee break during the Firewise day which was held at Something Els.
We laughed a lot, we learnt a lot and we certainly went home inspired.
The first 6 Newsletters (apologies - the photos dont copy in from the emails)- why not contact Dine through REDI and get on the mailing list email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Newsletter #6: The Firewise Day Programme
Great news! Your Firewise Programme for Saturday 23 March has been finalized (thank you Linda Hiles). It is going to be exciting and informative.
Please click here for the programme.
The Firewise Day will be held in Something Els, kindly made available to us by Thomas Koorts and Elbi Bredenkamp. It will only last the Saturday morning, leaving your afternoon free for your rugby or braai, or whatever makes your Saturday rock.
What is it all about?
Procedures start at 9 o’ clock with a brief introduction “The Importance of being Firewise”.
Then Marlu Rust, the main man of Overstrand Fire & Disaster Management, has his 30 minutes, plus Q & A time. He has had some serious experience of fire management lately, as you can well imagine.
Meet Ryan Heydenrych (photo)
He will be followed by Ryan Heydenrych of Vulcan Wildfire Management. Vulcan is involved in all aspects of Fire Management and it will be inspiring to listen to this man.
After a brief break the architect Raymond Smithtells us about “firewise building and maintenance.” It will be an eye opener.
Tim Attwell, author of “Your place in the Kogelberg”, is going to talk about firewise gardening, something we are all interested in.
The last invited speaker will be our own Elbi Bredenkamp. Her company, Enviroworks is involved in eradicating alien invasives, a topic we all feel passionate about.
REDI will end the Firewise Day with “Crisis management”.
While all of this is happening in Something Els, the RESA Office next door will be manned by Peter Koning and some members of REDI. You can see our equipment and discuss the REDI response and evacuation plan with David van der Merwe. (David is the man that designed our REDI logo – isn’t it great?)
You can even check out the fire truck of the Pringle Bay volunteer firemen.
Remember Saturday, 23rd March for your Fireday in Rooiels. See you there.
Newsletter Number 5: Create a firescape garden
Recently I visited a friend in Betty’s Bay whose house had survived the fire. Both she and her neighbour are keen gardeners, but while the neighbours’ garden was totally destroyed and the proteas and pincushions burnt to the ground, my friend’s garden was only scorched.Why did that happen?Theirs is a firescape garden. They removed all dead branches and pruned the fynbos to have lush plants, rather than woody plants. In-between they have areas covered with stone or groundcover. This way they reduced the fuel load – and it paid off.
A firescaped property comprises three planting zones:
Zone 1: The patio or low resistance area.
This is next to the house. There should be fire resistant ground-covers and/or lawn and hard landscaping such as flagstone walks, brick patios, stone retaining walls, stone and inorganic mulches.
Zone 2: The garden or medium resistance zone.
Create ‘island beds’ 3 – 5 m apart surrounded by lawn, paving or stone.
Choose fire-resistant trees and shrubs, but make sure that they do not touch each other or create a ladder effect that can deliver a fire to your home.
Zone 3: Perimeter or buffer zone
Plant low growing, fleshy-leaved ground-covers, hedging plants, large aloes and isolated trees that are fire-resistant and that re-sprout when damaged by fire. Try not to use flammable fencing materials.
Plants for firescapes
No plant is fireproof, but landscaping with fire retardant plants or plants that re-sprout after a fire is part of an overall fire defence plan. These plants have been suggested by FynbosFire (with some comments by me):
* Ground-covers for sunny areas: Carpobrotus edulis (suurvye), brevifolia (our lovely dwarf aloe), arctotis,(bitter gousblom), gazania (ha-ha the baboons will thank you), Osteospermum (Kaapse magrietjies) and vygies.
* Ground-covers for shady areas: Any of the Plectranthus plants: Plectranthus neochilus with its herby smell and mauve flowers, P. verticillatus or P. ciliates. Crassula multicava (fairy crassula or skaduplakkie) makes dainty flowers and just keeps on growing.
* Bulbs: Watsonia and Tulbaghia are suggested, but the baboons will dig them out, while arum lilies will invite the porcupine into your garden. Agapanthus and red-hot pokers are good. I would suggest Veltheimia (sandlelie); see photo.
* Small shrubs: Grow buchu, like Agathosma serpyllacea (thyme buchu or wildeboegoe), Felicia (bloublommetjies), scabiosa and Athanasia dentata. The small Polygala (Septemberbos) is beautiful.
* Shrubs & trees for island beds: any Leucadendron (cone bush, geelbos or tolletjiesbush), any Protea, Erica, Pelargonium. Also fan aloe, coastal silver oak, wild olive and wild peach. You could also plant the large Polygala.
* Hedge plants: Krantz aloe, Chrysanthemoides monilifera (tick berry or bietou – but it could become invasive and prevent other fynbos seed to sprout. Great as a trimmed hedge, especially since it is fire resistant), Searsia crenata (dune crowberry or taaibos) and Tarchonanthus camphoratus (camphor bush).
* Forest trees for perimeter: Wild almond (Brabejum stellatifolium), rooiels (Cunonia capensis), tree fuchsia (Halleria lucida), Cape holly (Ilex mitis) and Cape beech (Rapanaea melanophloeos).
(Source: FynbosFire Project)
Why make Rooi Els a firewise community?
Rooi Els is a special place. We are a caring community with one common denominator: our passion for Rooi Els.
Recently the safety of our beautiful village, our property and our community was endangered. Rooi Els volunteers went into action, protecting what is ours and reaching out to our neighbouring communities.
The anger of the fire was overwhelming. We saw traumatized and displaced people and watched as flames ravished fynbos, fauna and properties in gale-force winds. The people were victims in a situation they could not win.
We do not want trauma
What happened in Knysna and Betty’s Bay must never happen in Rooi Els. We do not want our houses to burn down. We have vulnerable people and special-needs people. We do not want residents and holidaymakers to panic and children and pets to choke of smoke inhalation. We do not want our klipspringers and our tortoises to perish. We care about our mongooses, our dassies, our elephant shrews with their “trunks”, bright eyes and perky large ears (klaasneusmuis). We do not want our Cape sugarbirds to fall from the sky.
Veldfires are a given in fynbos
Veldfires are a given and are necessary for the rejuvenation of the fynbos, yet the frequency and intensity of the fires have increased alarmingly. If we want to live here, we are going to have to manage our village.
How can we hold our heads high if the fire could not be contained because – even if we knew how to minimize the effect of a fynbos fire, we were foolhardy, irresponsible or complacent?
As sure as there is going to be another spring tide, there is going to be another fynbos fire, but we can be prepared by becoming a Firewise Community.
The recent fire was a warning to all of us in Rooi Els.
This Firewise project is very important for our community. To protect our village and everything we care for, we have to become firewise. We have to act now and be prepared.
How to become firewise
In the following newsletters we will address the challenges of being firewise in a fynbos biome; how to clear our plots and road verges; why there seem to be more fires than before; how to prune your fynbos to the benefit of the plants and to be firewise at the same time; informing our guests about the fire hazard; what the community is doing etc.
Firewise day 23 March.
Do make sure to be in Rooi Els on Saturday 23 March, when we will be having an informative and enjoyable Firewise Day at Something Else.