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South Africa’s Climate-Fueled Wildfires

Shongaziph Ngcongo awoke one windy night in August to find her thatched-roof house ablaze. She just managed to grab her six children and a few meagre possessions before escaping the wildfires that burnt down her valley.

Ngcongo lives in an idyllic-looking rural community located in hills above the Nhlazuka valley. In this rural part of KwaZulu-Natal, people live in traditional rondavel homes that are spread out among thornveld valleys. Steep hillsides make the homesteads easy targets for wildfires, especially those with thatched roofs.

“When fires start in the valley, sparks fly up on top of the thatch and then the houses start burning,” says community member Bono Cwazibe.

Many of the wildfires are caused by people hunting bush pigs: they set the bush alight to flush out wild animals, and when the flames get out of control they spread rapidly through the dry thornveld scrub and grasslands. The community has no firebreaks, so their livestock, crops and homes are vulnerable to fire attacks.

Cameron Strandberg

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