The Southern Cape Fire Protection Association (SCFPA) is situated in the Western Cape and extends eastwards from the town of Mossel Bay in the west, to the Eastern Cape border at the Keurbooms River. It falls entirely within the Eden District Municipality (EDM), and covers the entire jurisdictional areas of the three Category B Municipalities, namely George, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, as well as parts of the Uniondale, Mossel Bay and Oudtshoorn municipalities. It southern boundary is the Indian Ocean and the northern boundary is roughly aligned along the junction between the fire-resistant Klein Karoo vegetation and the Mountain Fynbos just north of the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma Mountain ranges.
The population in the SCFPA is mainly distributed in and around the major settlements, with the main concentrations being in and around George, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. The estimated population within the SCFPA is about 302 153 people. According to municipal statistics, the sector which provides the most employment opportunities in the EDM is the agriculture industry, which employs approximately 24 000 people. The second largest sector is the social services sector, which employs 24 000 people. Agricultural growth sectors include vegetables, Hops farming, dairy farming, fruit livestock, wool veldflowers, ostriches, aloe and thatch. The forestry sector is a very important component of Eden DM’s economy, and several economic activities are dependant on the South Cape forestry industry. It is estimated that the plantations of the Outeniqua region cover approximately 80 000 ha of land, of which 61 000 ha is in public ownership. MTO Forestry is the largest concern and manages about 50803 ha of state land. In addition, another 40 000 ha is available for further plantations in the region (Outeniqua SDF, 2000). Game Farming is a fast growing industry in the region.
Two conservation agencies, South African National Parks (SANParks) and CapeNature, manage the largest and second largest areas of land respectively, in the EDM, in the form of formal protected areas. SANParks manages large parcels of the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma mountain ranges, formally under the control of the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF), and is in a process of consolidating these parcels into the existing three National Parks, namely Willderness, Knysna and Tsitsikamma, to eventually form the Garden Route National Park. CapeNature manages the Outeniqua, Goukamma, Robberg and Keurboomsrivier nature reserves, which cover about 40 000 ha.
The vegetation of the SCFPA is mostly Fynbos, Karoo shrub and Afro-montane forest. According to Van Wilgen et al (1992) fynbos is fire driven and therefore it is dependent on disturbances, which are caused by the natural fire regime in the area. Karoo shrub and Afron-montane forest are considered to be fire-resistant. Veld fires can occur throughout the year, and there is thus no distinct fire season. Veld fires occurring as a result of natural ignitions (generally lightning strikes) occur mostly during the warm, summer months of November to March, associated with high temperatures exceeding 25oC. Some of the most damaging veld fires however, occur in the winter, roughly from May to November and are associated with hot, dry “berg winds” where temperatures can exceed 30oC. These fires are usually started by unnatural ignition sources, such as open fires and arson.
The social, economic, and environmental assets exposed to risk of loss to fires in the SCFPA are diverse and include damage to livelihood, properties, and biodiversity. Veld fires have historically, caused significant damage to livelihoods, infrastructure, commercial forestry plantations, agricultural produce, natural resource products e.g veld flowers and biodiversity. The remote mountainous terrain, lack of integrated fire management, co-operation, coordination, and awareness are the most important factors exacerbating the occurrence and damaging effects of veld fires.
The SCFPA aims to contribute to community development by eliminating loss of life and human injury in veld fires, progressively reducing impacts on property, job creation and environmental values while promoting the useful role of veld fires as a management tool. It also aims to successfully implement an integrated fire management strategy that will contribute to community development before 2010.