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Security to be tightened on Table Mountain after devastating fire ‘started deliberately’

Security to be tightened on Table Mountain after devastating fire ‘started deliberately’
Firefighters battle the raging fire in gale-force winds and heavy smoke in Vredehoek, Cape Town on 19 April 2021. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

A new security plan for the Table Mountain area is being put in place following the devastating fire in April that tore through 600ha of land and destroyed historical buildings.

South African National Parks (SANParks) has launched a new joint operation centre (JOC) to combat crime in the Table Mountain area. This comes after an investigation showing the April fire that ripped through the park and parts of the University of Cape Town was caused by a malicious act

The operation is in its first phase — establishing a point of contact for reporting emergencies or security concerns by park users, SANParks spokesperson Rey Thakhuli told Daily Maverick

Phase 1 includes CCTV monitoring, day and night patrols, removing people from the park after regular hours and conducting patrols focusing on hotspots. 

“The command centre will also be able to dispatch resources to areas of concern while serving as the main intelligence collection point for Table Mountain National Park with regard to safety and security matters,” Thakhuli said. 

The JOC is a partnership that includes the City of Cape Town’s law enforcement division, the SAPS and the SANDF. 

Increased security measures were enforced after an investigation by Rob Erasmus of Enviro Wildfire Services that ruled out natural causes or negligence as possible reasons for the April wildfire. The findings from the report show that a vehicle had slowed down at the originating point of the fire at Devil’s Peak and, two minutes after it drove off, the fire started. 

vredehoek

The fire rages above Vredehoek, Cape Town on 19 April 2021. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

Speculation on the possible cause of the fire initially pointed to the homeless community in the Table Mountain area, though the investigation ruled this possibility out. A homeless person had been arrested initially, but charges of arson were subsequently withdrawn. 

Dry conditions, temperatures of around 30°C and increasing wind speeds added to the spread of the fire. The indigenous fynbos vegetation, which covers much of the Table Mountain area, was also a contributing factor to the spread of the blaze. 

Thakhuli said that in addition to added security measures, it was important that fire management strategies are designed in conjunction with role players such as the City of Cape Town. These efforts are to address challenges such as invasive alien plant removal, biodiversity maintenance and the urban edge’s fire preparedness. 

“Public awareness on matters relating to fire management such as fire preparedness, good conduct and fireproofing of homes and infrastructure on the urban edge is critical,” the spokesperson said. 

SANParks is a member of the Fire Protection Association, which enables it to be prepared for and maintain firebreaks, as well as having the human resources and equipment to manage wildfires. 

Though SANParks has acknowledged the homelessness problem that affects the area, it has said that it does not have the resources to deal with the situation, but is keen to contribute to finding sustainable solutions.

The investigation into the fire is ongoing and SANParks has, according to Thakhuli, handed over relevant information to law enforcement. There is a R10,000 reward for any information that could lead to the arrest and prosecution of those suspected of starting the fire. DM

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