Fires on Welgevonden

On the evening of Monday the 26th September, multiple lightning strikes both on Welgevonden and on adjoining properties resulted in extensive fires in and around the reserve. The strong winds and high temperatures combined to create extensive fire fronts that moved extremely quickly. At the same time, lightning strikes resulted in fires across the entire Waterberg region and reports indicate that vast tracts of land from Nylstroom to Thabazimbi were burnt.

The fires on Welgevonden have burnt approximately a third of the reserve’s surface area (11 000 ha), predominantly in the southern, south-western and south-eastern sections. The Welgevonden management together with considerable assistance from almost all lodges intervened where necessary to ensure that lodges and other infrastructure within the danger zone were suitably protected. No lodges were damaged and there was very little damage to other infrastructure on the reserve. Also, after extensive inspection of the burnt areas, it is apparent that almost no game was killed or injured by the fires.

Although at first glance such extensive fires appear extremely destructive, their impact on the ecology of the reserve is extremely positive. Historically fires such as these would have burnt through the region on an annual basis, and they are critical to the functioning of the ecosystem. Fires ensure the continuation of nutrient cycling by releasing nutrients held in old plant material, they remove moribund grass and facilitate a flush of highly nutritious new growth, they limit encroachment by woody species and they necessary for the germination of numerous seeds.  Hence, even though the ferocity and extent of these fires was indeed alarming, their impact on the ecology of the reserve has been very favourable, particularly considering that they burnt in a natural manner and have burnt a suitably extensive area. A fire of this magnitude will contribute greatly to maintaining a patch mosaic of habitat types across the reserve, and this is essential for the maintenance of biodiversity.