A single mom standing in the face of wildfire

 

Buyiselwa Ngqawani is a single mom. Buyiselwa Ngqawani is a hero. Her job means spending excruciating hours away from her children, fighting fires in the mountains. Hauling heavy gear, battling exhaustion, smoke and soaring flames. Ngqawani is part of Working on Fire, one of the organisations responsible for keeping South Africans safe from the infernos that threaten our countryside.

It is a fact of life in South Africa that when summer comes around, the Western Cape’s fynbos burns. The process is an essential part of the precious vegetation’s life cycle. Burning provides the stimulus for dormant seeds to germinate, ensuring that new fynbos begins to grow. This needs to happen at regular intervals. A stretch of fynbos should burn every 10 to 25 years. More often and the plants don’t have time to mature; less frequently and they begin to die out, replaced by other species.

As South Africa struggles with its worst drought in decades, fires are starting more often than they should. If it weren’t for people like Ngqawani, the destruction wrought by these blazes would have a far higher human and environmental cost. Wind, dry bush and water scarcity combine to exacerbate the problem.

In recent weeks, uncontrolled wildfires have been spreading at an alarming rate. Thanks to the work of people like Ngqawani, the damage has been limited. A cohort of fire fighters, volunteers and well-meaning people is responsible for keeping our homes safe. These are otherwise ordinary people whose everyday lives belie the courage they display on the front lines of fire protection.