Day 389 – Of helicopters

Helicopter news. Firstly, tenuously, the Cape Town fire continues today. Reports that it was under control were quickly rubbished by a huge flare-up and with the South Easter continuing to pump, the City Bowl remains the place not to be this afternoon. The helicopters were doing their bit when they could, but the wind has kept them grounded for at least some of the day. The fire is heading the other way from us at the moment, but we can still smell smoke everywhere and there is ash falling in the garden. There has been a lot of damage, not least to the UCT library:

And some video here.

Elsewhere, a local radio station reported on a trail runner who was chased by the fire yesterday. She’s pretty fast.

10 to 20 km per second is rapid.
10km/s is about Mach 30.
20km/s is 72,000kph. That’s 2½ times faster than the International Space Station travels.

Lisette was very, very lucky to survive unscathed, given that running at that speed, she would likely have spontaneously burst into flames from the air resistance alone. I don’t know how she did it.

More seriously, the emergency numbers to call in Cape Town are Landline: 021 480 7700 or Cell phone: 107.

And then, another helicopter thing, this time 287.52 million km away.

It might not look like much, but I remember the first time I flew my drone. It was amazing and that was only done in my living room. It wasn’t on Mars. And I didn’t video it.

I watched the live feed at NASA’s JPL as the data from this flight came in. Absolutely incredible.

Here’s the full video. Mind-blowing stuff.

More fire expertise…

It turns out that just a couple of weeks before the big Cape Town fire got started above Kalk Bay, a one Dr Simon Pooley was at a bookshop in Kalk Bay, launching his latest book all about fires on Table Mountain.

What? No!
No. I wasn’t saying that at all. Leave me out of the wild accusations formed by your cynical mental gymnastics. I’m sure his book sales would have been superb anyway. Interesting subject.
Topical. Suddenly very topical.

Anyway, when the fires came, Dr P was obviously the go-to guy for some Cape Times column inches – you can read them here (or in PDF here) – in which he told us that fires are (and always have been) a regular part of living next to the Table Mountain National Park:

Fires are by nature sensational news, and nowhere else in South Africa is this more so than on the Cape Peninsula, where a national park protecting fynbos which must burn every 10 to 20 years is bordered by the country’s parliamentary capital city, which must not.

Great line, right there. The rest of it is a good read too. And we’ve already touched on the ecological importance of the fire. But I also liked these few salient points from ‘Die Kaartman’, who (while agreeing with much of what the good doctor said) added to Pooley’s piece thus:

Whether the fire was deliberately set or caused by human carelessness is irrelevant in the end, because on Wednesday, while the fire was still raging on several fronts, lightning started a fire at Cape Point. The wind switched to a strong south-easter and the fire was only contained because it moved into an area of younger veld [a recent controlled burn]. Now imagine the Peninsula 365 years ago, clothed in 15 year old fynbos without any roads or houses. The same bolt of lightning on 4th March 1650, in the same weather conditions, would have burned the entire Peninsula, all the way to Table Mountain. If ever any more evidence was needed that fire is a natural phenomenon in fynbos, this was it.

The point they both make is that this was always going to happen and it will happen again. And while we can protect ourselves against it to some degree, it’s simply too big a thing to prevent. Thus, the clever money is on building smart (no thatch roof, no wooden fence, no building in the fire breaks etc) rather than assuming that we’re done now and that there won’t be another fire.

Because, some time in the next 10-20 years, there will be.