Invasive pine trees significantly intensified the June 2017 Garden Route fires‚ scientists said on Thursday.
Pines have invaded more than 90% of the Garden Route National Park’s fynbos vegetation at various densities‚ according to a study published in the journal Fire Ecology.
Acacias and blue gums contributed to the fuel load available for the fire‚ which burnt 15‚000ha‚ destroyed 800 buildings and left seven people dead‚ said co-author Professor Brian van Wilgen‚ of the Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology at Stellenbosch University.
“By increasing the amount of fuel available to burn‚ the fires become more intense and more difficult to control‚” said Van Wilgen‚ whose research team included academics from Nelson Mandela University‚ South African National Parks and the CSIR.
They found that the severity of the fire‚ which claimed more than 5‚000ha of commercial pine plantations‚ was significantly higher in plantations of invasive alien trees and in fynbos invaded by alien trees‚ than in uninvaded fynbos.
The two-year drought that preceded the fires was the worst on record and contributed significantly to the impact of the disaster‚ they said.