South Africa


‘Out-of-control’ blaze moves to Vredehoek, residents evacuated, one suspect arrested

Initially, the fire burned high on the slopes of Devil’s Peak until the gale force winds pushed the flames down the mountain into Vredehoek, where emergency services were on stand-by in case the blaze moved to the residential houses, Monday 19 April, 2021.Photo:Nicky Newman

By Monday morning, the fire that started around Rhodes Memorial on Sunday was causing havoc as it raged towards the city bowl. The SANDF has been deployed, and more than 250 firefighters are on the ground, while schools and residents in Vredehoek have been evacuated. One suspect in his 30s has been arrested.

Within 24 hours, the fire that started around Rhodes Memorial spread to UCT’s upper campus and moved to Vredehoek, said JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security in a statement

According to another City of Cape Town statement, at about 2am the wind speed increased, pushing the fire in that direction.

Conditions deteriorated overnight, with the wind picking up and fanning the flames, Anton Bredell, the provincial minister of local government, environmental affairs and development planning, said at 8am.

A flare up right behind the Disa Park Towers, fueled by super strong winds as dawn broke. Photo: Nicky Newman

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) was activated on Monday morning and all available air resources in Cape Town were on standby for assistance with the ongoing wildfire, Anton Bredell, the minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning in the Western Cape said in a noon statement.

 “At the moment the wind is too strong and it is not safe to fly the helicopters. As soon as the weather permits, the air force will be in the air. The Oryx can carry a water payload of 2000 litres per drop. We welcome the SAAF support as always.”

 Bredell says the City of Cape Town and its partners continue to tackle the wildfire despite the gale force wind.

In a 7am statement, Smith said: “Additional fire crews are now stationed in the Pepper Tree and Chelmsford area. As a precaution these areas were evacuated. Further crews are on Tafelberg Road as the wind speed is predicted to increase throughout the morning. 

“All efforts remain focused on active firefighting for the moment, although the fire is hard to reach in places and we hope that aerial firefighting support can be deployed to douse the flames before it reaches the urban edge. However, the wind could impact on this deployment.”

There had been one arrest related to the fire. “The City can confirm that one suspect in his 30s was taken into custody last night in the vicinity of Devil’s Peak.

“He was spotted by a resident, who tracked him down with the help of his sons and the family’s dogs. The matter is with the SAPS for investigation and further details will follow as they become available.”

Early morning, the fire still going strong,right on the line of, the houses as fire fighters battled the wind to contain it. Photo:Nicky Newman

By 8.47am Disaster Risk Management staff and volunteers had started evacuating residents from Disa Park in Vredehoek, according to Charlotte Powell, head of public awareness and preparedness at the Disaster Risk Management Centre. 

At the time, Disaster Risk Management teams were also on their way to District Six (Zonnebloem) to assess the situation, said Powell.

By 10am, residents in the following areas had been evacuated from Vredehoek: Ministerial Estate, Disa Park and the Mountain View complex. 

All schools in the Vredehoek area had been asked to evacuate.

An hour later, Smith said active firefighting had concentrated in Vredehoek, on Philip Kgosana Drive and at UCT. 

“The City’s Air Quality Monitoring Unit has recorded very high levels of particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) at the Foreshore Monitoring Station. Asthmatics and other sensitive receptors with respiratory conditions are urged to stay indoors and keep windows and doors closed, or leave the area if possible and seek medical attention if respiratory distress is experienced,” he said. 

More than 250 firefighters from the City of Cape Town, Table Mountain National Park, Working on Fire and Volunteer Wildfire Services are fighting the blaze on various fronts, said Smith.

Four injured firefighters were in hospital. There had not been any reports of any injured residents, although properties had reportedly been damaged.

Amid speculation, the City said it was investigating whether the fire had been started by homeless people.

On Sunday, the fire burnt down the Rhodes Memorial restaurant, parts of the historic Jagger Library on UCT’s Upper Campus and Mostert’s Mill, the country’s oldest windmill. Students were evacuated from some residences. DM

To assist the firefighters, energy bars, energy drinks and light snacks can be dropped off at the Roeland Street Fire Station in central Cape Town.

To help the UCT students who were evacuated, the public can donate essential items and food on the Old Mutual West Campus, 91 Jan Smuts Road, Pinelands. Items must be sealed, in accordance with Covid-19 protocols. Anyone who would like to support the #UCTFire emergency relief fund is urged to please send financial donations to:

Account name: UCT Donations Account

Bank: Standard Bank of South Africa

Branch code: Rondebosch Branch, 025009

Account number: 07 152 2387

Swift code: SBZAZAJJ

Please include your donor name if you so wish, as well as the reference for your donation, e.g. Name Surname, #UCTFire.

Absa OBP

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  • I would be curious to see some more reporting on the initial response to the blaze and more detail on which historic buildings have been damaged on UCT’s middle campus (there appear to be several) as well as the nature of the library’s losses. Was the Bleek Lloyd collection spared?

  • Helicopters only authorised to fly by 12 pm
    Time to set up a monthly subscription system that allows for fast tracked helicopter deployments so that fires are nipped in the bud which would have been the case here. Far cheaper for all concerned !!

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