The hydrological effects of fire in South African catchments.
Stream-flow and storm-flow in four small catchments were analysed by the paired catchment method for a response to fire. Two of the catchments were vegetated with over-mature fynbos (the indigenous scrub vegetation of the south-western Cape Province, South Africa), one was afforested to Pinus radiata and the fourth to Eucalyptus fastigata. One of the fynbos catchments was burned in a prescribed fire in the late dry season. The other catchments burned in wildfires. Neither of the fynbos catchments showed a change in storm-flows. Annual total flow increases of around 16% were in line with predictions, being related to the reductions in transpiration and interception. The manner of stream-flow and storm-flow generation appeared to have remained unaltered despite the fire. The two timber plantation catchments experienced large and significant increases in stormflow and sediment yields, while total flow increased by 12% in the pine catchment and decreased marginally in the eucalypt catchment. After fire, storm hydrographs were higher and steeper though their duration was little changed. These fire effects are considered to be due to changes in storm-flow generation consistent with an increased delivery of overland flow to the stream channel. This was caused, in part, by reduced infiltration resulting from water repellency in the soils of the burned catchments. The inherent wettability of a wide range of soil types and textures from beneath timber plantations and other vegetation types over a broad geographic distribution in South Africa was measured by four methods. Soils with high repellency ratings, unrelated to fire, are common and are most likely to occur beneath plantations of Eucalyptus and Acacia spp. and indigenous forest. Water repellent soils played a role, at two of the three locations, in the generation of overland flow from small plots exposed to simulated rainfall. However, the inherent repellency of the dry soils was extreme, such that fire-induced water repellency was not a factor in the response of the plots. The important role of fire in this experiment was in burning-off of repellency in the surface layer of the soil and in removing ground cover.