HAMNET Report 4th February 2024

GDACS has been reporting all week on the wildfires ravaging areas around the Western Cape, in the presence of the current heatwave. They note evacuations and widespread damage.

According to the JRC Global Wildfire Information System (GWIS), as of 31st January, the total burnt area across the affected region was approximately 25,000 ha. A number of these wildfires are currently still under containment.

Media report, as of 1st February, around 250 displaced people and dozens of damaged houses in the Overberg District Municipality and the Cape Winelands District Municipality. Over the next 24 hours, according to the JRC GWIS, the fire danger forecast is still expected to be from high to extreme across the already affected areas.

The Western Cape government has approached the National Disaster Management Centre for Disaster Classification.

“A provincial disaster classification will empower the premier and the minister of finance to move funding as and when we need it to sustain our firefighting efforts,” said local government MEC, Anton Bredell.

According to Bredell, the hot and windy weather conditions, combined with several wildfires burning in the Cape Winelands and Overstrand districts, necessitated a large and co-ordinated firefighting effort.

“We have the necessary resources available to address the wildfires, but the disaster declaration will give us the ability to co-ordinate optimally. We are doing everything to protect lives and property,” he said.

Since Monday, fires have engulfed Hangklip between Betty’s Bay and Pringle Bay, destroying several homes and forcing evacuations.

Overstrand municipal manager, Dean O’Neill, reported on Thursday that the fire in Hangklip had flared up again.

On the other side of the province, the Cape Winelands District Municipality’s (CWDM) Fire Services and teams spent an anxious night monitoring and battling multiple fires in Rawsonville, Worcester and Wolseley.

Massive flames have been burning throughout the area for nine days.

CWDM spokesperson, Jo-Anne Otto, said over 30 000 hectares of land had already been destroyed there.

“At Kluitjieskraal and Wolseley, 27 200 ha have been burned. The Brandvlei fire, which is ongoing, has so far seen 3 700ha, and the Fairy Glen fire 2 200ha,” Otto confirmed.

The South African Weather Service yesterday also cautioned that extremely high fire danger conditions were expected over the West Coast and Cape Winelands on Friday.

Otto said: “The hot weather impacts our ability to fight the fire, it’s hot and there are real dangers of dehydration and heat exhaustion.”

These reports come from various sources.

Writing in universetoday.com about the rocky materials retrieved from the Asteroid Bennu and delivered back to earth last year, Evan Gough says that Bennu is a carbonaceous asteroid, a primitive chunk of rock that forms a link to the past when the rocky planets were forming. Scientists have already found carbon and water in the previously removed material. In fact, according to initial analysis, its carbon concentration is close to 5%. That’s among the highest non-terrestrial carbon percentages ever measured. “The OSIRIS-REx sample is the biggest carbon-rich asteroid sample ever delivered to Earth and will help scientists investigate the origins of life on our own planet for generations to come,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

Once scientists get their hands on more of the material, they’ll doubtlessly find other interesting components. Maybe even some of life’s building blocks like amino acids. Bennu’s water and carbon content could indicate that life’s building blocks originated in asteroids like Bennu.

The sample also gives researchers an opportunity to test their findings against previous observations of Bennu. Astronomers studied the asteroid’s composition with OSIRIS-REx’s instruments as it approached Bennu, and the samples will tell them how accurate their efforts were. It’s an opportunity to verify and improve spacecraft instruments and remote sensing methods.

Scientists suspect that Bennu could actually be older than our Solar System. If that’s true, then it’s a window into the distant past when only the solar nebula and the proto-Sun existed. It may contain insights into how everything formed, including the Sun.

Bennu may also be one of the remaining pieces of a much larger body. Scientists think that the parent body broke apart between 700 million and two billion years ago. Scientists hope to learn more from the Bennu sample about its parent body and how Bennu migrated to the inner Solar System.

In a notable act of foresight, 75% of the sample will be stored for the future. Instruments and analysis techniques will only improve over time, and these pristine samples will be available when they do. NASA has done the same with other materials like lunar samples, and it’s paid off.

The Bennu samples can only enhance our understanding of our Solar System and how everything came to be. From its ancient early beginnings in the solar nebula to its present-day location in the inner Solar System, Bennu is a well-travelled message-bearer. Now that we have some of that message in our labs, scientists can reveal what Bennu has to say.

This coming Saturday the 10th of February sees the riding of the Gryphon 99er cycle race out of Durbanville in the Cape, in the general direction of Malmesbury, on a 100km round trip back to Durbanville again. HAMNET Western Cape has assisted with rover duties and communications for about 17 years now (except for the Covid years), and will be at it again this week.

Nineteen HAMNET members will be involved with eight roving stations, three danger points which will occupy 2 members each, one before, and one after each danger point, and 3 members in the JOC. APRS trackers will be utilised to keep track of course marshals, and roving hams, and two different APRS software methods will be tested in comparison with each other, to attempt to identify the better one.

February in Cape Town is notorious for hot weather, as I noted in the previous report above, and last year’s race was stopped due to extreme temperatures at about 11am, with an hour of riding still to go. We sincerely hope the same won’t happen this year. I hope to be able to include a report-back in next week’s bulletin.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.