Scorched Earth

A few weeks ago I got an urgent call on my cell phone. There was a fire in the vineyards!

I rushed around trying o find whatever I could that might be usefull to fight fire. The first thing I saw was a rake. Looked promising but ultimately was a failure as it just bent. I eventually settled on the normal standby – a leafy branch.

I called all employees within earshot, and then rushed to the fire (I could see smoke in the distance). After about 10 minutes of frantic beating and gulping of smoke, the fire in one of our Cabernet Blocks was brought under control.

Then the search started for the cause. The fire was in the middle of the block and a tractor was mowing the grass in the rows. We like to have a lot of grass cover, or what is known as mulch, in the vineyards. The reason for this is that it promotes water retention, and provides a food source for microbial life and worms. These creatures are beneficial for the vines as they aerate the soil and help the plants acquire minerals. The drawback of having a lot of groundcover is that there is an increase in fire risk.

Finally we figured out what the cause was. And no the tractor driver does not smoke! He was mowing in a particularly rocky area, and the blades of the mower must have clipped a stone. This in turn caused a spark, which ignited the mulch. Go figure!!

Fortunately this was a “cold” fire that ran quickly over the surface. The vines will survive but have lost this year’s crop.


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