Fires, especially those that come late in the year (known as “hot burns”) are incredibly destructive. Hot burns destroy the habitat by killing young trees, which are trying to establish themselves, and destroying the grass seed bank in the soil.
These fires are also capable of killing large, established trees, especially where there is a build-up of moribund around the base of the tree. This damages the bark and sometimes will actually cause the heartwood to burn, which causes the tree to collapse. It can take years for an area to recover from hot burns. The pioneer species which start to establish themselves in areas that have been subjected to excessive fire damage are often unpalatable to game, leaving large tracts of land rendered unsuitable to wildlife. Some species of trees that are hardy and fire-resistant will coppice, which can cause large thickets of very dense vegetation that completely shade out all grasses and become completely impenetrable.
Hot fires travel at a tremendous speed, often engulfing wildlife, both large and small. Tortoises are sometimes burnt to death as they seek refuge in dense clumps of vegetation. Elephant cow herds with small calves are especially at risk, as the speed at which they can travel is controlled by the speed of the youngest calf.
Many of the fires around Hwange National Park are started intentionally by poachers or by people clearing areas for cropping outside the park. Late season fires can be started by lightning strikes. Frequently fires burn for days before reaching the Park boundary, as there is very little or no control outside the Park as resources are very limited.