There are very few dull moments in the bush and this weekend was no exception at Tanda Tula. We had just headed out for a game drive on Saturday afternoon with our small lockdown family and were enjoying a wonderful sighting of a pride of lions near camp when Nina exclaimed “Is that smoke out to the east?” Sure enough, her sharp eyes had picked up a fairly large plume of smoke towards our eastern boundary. Fire plays an important role in our savannah biome and is a major component in maintaining the ecological integrity of an area. The Timbavatihas a variety of camps dotted throughout the greater reserve and to mitigate risk from runaway bush fires, controlled burns are an effective management tool utilised to stimulate this act under more favourable weather conditions and ensure a safe burn out of the fire.
A runaway bush fire is an intimidating beast and reserve protocol dictates that we call in all potential fires and alert reserve management immediately to any threat of this sort. I jumped onto our emergency channel and called in to the Timbavatioperational control room. I was informed it was NOT a controlled burn and we were requested to please assist reserve management in fighting it. Our firefighting equipment is always prepped and ready in case of such events, so we rushed back to camp and hitched up our firefighting trailer, loaded knap sack sprayers, fire beaters and extinguishers. Locked and loaded we swiftly jumped back into the vehicles and headed towards the blaze looking meaner than the crew from the movie Backdraft (we left the kids back at camp this time!).
Kings Camp, our neighbours to the north of us, had also been out on drive and were already on the scene, but did not have any firefighting equipment with them. Warren Moore, General Manager at Kings Camp, and his team had however already started to beat the fire out on the burn line using Magic Guarri, a hardy evergreen shrub.
Thankfully, weather conditions were in our favour, and when we arrived on the scene, a gentle south eastern breeze had started to push the fire to back burn on itself. Ever aware of safe social distancing, we attacked the fire from the rear whilst Kings Camp maintained their efforts in the front. This combined effort and team work quickly had the blaze under control and virtually all out. Our team then began the slow process of working our way back through the burn field to ensure that existing embers, large logs and highly combustible dry elephant dung were all out and wouldn’t reignite the blaze if conditions changed.
This took a good few hours and it was completely dark by the time we had managed to extinguish all of it. It was incredible that the only animal we encountered in the wake of the burn was the ever-opportunistic hyena. A couple of these wily scavengers quietly sauntered through the debris looking for any smaller creatures that may have succumbed to the blaze. I am always amazed at how quickly they respond to distress of any kind in the bush; they are completely attuned to it.
We warily packed up all our equipment and slowly made our way back to camp where the legend that is Chef Ryan had a hot, delicious meal waiting for us. It was amazing reflecting on the day and realising that swift, decisive teamwork had saved what could have been a very dangerous situation. Incredibly, at a time when the current social norm is distancing and separation, we had adapted our response to come together and collectively fight the threat. It gave me a sense of hope moving forward in these uncertain times, that we will adapt and overcome no matter what situation is thrown at us.