Controlled burns Q&A

Brackenridge is a designated fynbos eco-estate. Fynbos is highly flammable, adapted to and dependent on fire for it’s survival. We have some of the oldest, most densely packed, overgrown and unhealthy Fynbos in the area. More than 25 years of ground fuel accumulation, dry “woody” Fynbos, abundant Bitou Bush, all add to the fire danger in our Estate. Following any burn, the maintenance of regrowth is vital. Brackenridge’s two problems: mounting fire danger AND Bio-diversity degradation. One solution: Controlled Block burns. (For more information, see the recent Biodiversity Report compiled by Dr. Patricia Holmes.)

No – environmental scientists are clear on that, as Dr. Patricia Holmes has pointed out when we asked her this question. The main reason for “slashing” not being a viable alternative is that it will not stimulate recruitment in the majority of fynbos plants. Moreover, if done repeatedly slashing will lead to the local extinction of nearly all non-sprouters (except the most weedy species) – we would end up with a shrub dominated plant community. This is not desirable if biodiversity conservation is our aim for Brackenridge as an eco-estate.

Fynbos is unusual among vegetation types in that it comprises a majority of re-seeding species. After varying periods of time (depending on life-histories) such species die back to the soil seed bank. A few have seed banks held in the canopies instead (e.g. Protea).

Those seed banks need the stimulation of various fire cues to germinate: e.g., heat pulse, smoke chemicals and changes in diurnal temperature regime. These conditions are difficult to simulate without fire, especially if slash is left in place. Furthermore, fire recycles the scarce nutrients in the system to allow vigorous growth in the immediate post-fire stage. It also sterilizes the surface soil against pathogens (e.g. Witch’s Broom, Phytophthora) that build up during the interfire period.

For an in-depth scientific discussion of the topic, see these publications:

  • Holmes (2000): Recovery of South African fynbos vegetation following alien woody plant clearing and fire: implications for restoration
  • Kraaij and van Wilgen (2014): Drivers, ecology, and management of fire in fynbos. DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199679584.003.0003.
  • Kraaij, Cowling and van Wilgen (2011): Past approaches and future challenges to the management of fire and invasive alien plants in the new Garden Route National Park

The Southern Cape Fire Protection Association (SCFPA) will manage the burn days. Burns will be attended by SCFPA, Plett South Fire Management Unit (PSFMU), Crags Working on Fire (WoF) team and any available Brackenridge Fire team members. Bitou Fire & Rescue Services will give the final go ahead and will be on Standby.

The Crags Working on Fire (WoF) team is cutting firebreaks throughout the estate. Firebreaks vary from 3 meters (2m on common + 1m on private land) up to 6 meters (4m on common + 2m on private land) on boundaries between common & private land. Variations are determined by vegetation, slope, size of adjoining property & other. Widths are considered as MINIMUM required to be fit for purpose.  The Estate staff are thinning out dead plants & shrubs and stacking them in specific “burn areas”. The aim is to manage the heat of a block burn in these areas, making it more suitable for seed germination.

Clearing of these piles of dead vegetation and stack burns by Brackenridge Fire team under PSFMU guidance will be done as needed – and as/when allowed by Bitou Fire Dept. 

Develop private land firebreaks (1 – 2m): All highly flammable plants like Fynbos, Bitou bush etc. should be replaced with less flammable species like Spekboom, aloe or other. 

Create a defensible space: A minimum 3 meter zone around a home or structure which has had all flammable material removed / replaced with less flammable. No fire wood storage and no Fynbos!

Be at home or designate a responsible other person to be at your home on burn day.

Timber decks are a big problem needing special care – you should wet your decks thoroughly!

These are planned for mid -June 2024. However, no controlled burns can be undertaken unless it is absolutely  “safe” to go ahead – firebreaks must be in place and the weather must be suitable. Residents & neighbours will be notified of location and proposed date via the Brackenridge Info WhatsApp group. Due to very strict weather conditions required, final go ahead for a burn will only be given on the morning of the burn.

Burning of the other blocks will follow, with the expectation that burning will be completed within 3 years. Doing them too close together will be unsightly, unpleasant and detrimental to the second objective: improvement of the health of the Fauna & Flora of the Estate.

Correct. Any incorrectly placed mowed belts will be actively rehabilitated under the auspices of the newly appointed ECO (ecological control officer), together with the Estate landscape team. It is hoped that burning the longer grass as part of a block burn may generate sufficient heat to stimulate germination of old seeds lying dormant in the ground. 

Once we will have “fit for purpose” border firebreaks , the +12m wide cut grass areas will no longer be a requirement for fire or security protection. They will be restored in keeping with our status as an Eco Estate.

Yes. The narrower ( = 2 to 4m) mowed belts directly on all property boundaries will be maintained by the Estate landscape team.

In some places, the Common + Private firebreaks impinge on an existing walking trail resulting in a wide stretch – which cannot be avoided. Other trails have been widened to 1.5m to allow for machine thinning of vegetation where this has been very dense and difficult to cut. Wherever possible the width of the walking trails is kept to the 1m requirement, and maintenance done by hand.

More information will be communicated to home owners closer to the controlled burn day via the Brackenridge information WhatsApp group and on email from management.

For fire-related queries, please WhatsApp Steve Ritky at 082 929 7283. For environmental queries, contact our ecological control officer, Kellyn Whitehead at