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Simon’s Town firefighting efforts continue after an intense night and evacuations after midnight

Simon’s Town firefighting efforts continue after an intense night and evacuations after midnight
Waves break at the Brass Bell in Kalk Bay as the fire that started near Castle Rock spreads to Simon's Town. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

Firefighting efforts continued on Wednesday morning as flames scarred the eastern slopes of the Simon’s Town mountain, south of Cape Town. Five firefighters sustained injuries and two were taken to hospital. 

The devastating fire that began on the slopes of Simon’s Town mountain edged near homes on Tuesday evening. Around 1am on Wednesday, residents from Simonskloof and Harbour Heights were evacuating.   

The Incident Commander was assessing the devastating scene from a chopper that took off around midnight on Tuesday.

“At this stage, there is no need for evacuation, but staff are closely monitoring the situation,” the City of Cape Town Disaster Risk Management Centre said on Tuesday night before things changed around midnight. 

An emergency vehicle was driving up and down the streets in Harbour Heights around 1am with sirens wailing, urging residents to evacuate.

Firefighters arrived in Seaforth Sound at 1.30am on Wednesday to try to keep the fire at bay. It was expected that residents would evacuate as well.

The main road leading into Simon’s Town has been closed to traffic at Red Hill Road, with access restricted to residents only.

By later on Wednesday morning, three helicopters were water-bombing the area, while more than 300 staff were still on the ground  said the City of Cape Town Fire and Rescue spokesperson Jermaine Carelse.

“Only a single derelict building was damaged last night at around 8pm on the grounds of the SA Navy,” he said. 

“The threat to the houses on Victory, Horatio and Barnard Streets was everted in the early hours of this morning [Wednesday, 20 December],” he added. 

Carelse said five firefighters sustained injuries and two were taken to hospital. 

“We would like to commend the firefighting efforts of not only our City staff, but those from TMNP, NCC, WOF, VWS and DRM volunteers who worked tirelessly throughout the night to keep the community safe,” he said. 

The mountain near Castle Rock in Simon’s Town in flames on 19 December 2023. (Photo: Kyra Wilkinson)

Animal welfare organisations were also on standby for the many animals, wild and domestic, who were likely to be injured. Many residents were particularly concerned about the various baboon troops that live in the mountains above Smitswinkel, Seaforth and Simon’s Town. 

Three vehicles from the Animal Welfare Society of South Africa were on standby below Simonskloof on Tuesday night waiting for the go-ahead to scour the ashes for injured animals.

There were also reports of people being evacuated by ambulance for smoke inhalation.

The fire was reported at about 7am on Tuesday, said Carelse. It began on the mountain slope near Castle Rock. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Fire season — Crews battle Simon’s Town mountain fire days after devastating Dunoon inferno

Fire helicopters collecting sea water, 19 December 2023. (Photo: Kyra Wilkinson)

The fire moved swiftly up the ridge, fanned by a southeaster, towards the SA Navy ammunition depot above Simon’s Town. Nearly 30 firefighters, including crews from Table Mountain National Park and NCC, were on the scene. As the day wore on, more than 60 firefighters battled the flames, assisted by four helicopters and a spotter plane. 

3

Glencairn’s shoreline is tainted burnt orange as the sky fills with heavy smoke carried by the wind, due to the fire in Simon’s Town on 19 December 2023. (Photo: Kyra Wilkinson)

When Daily Maverick arrived at the scene near Castle Rock at 12pm, the area was filled with people in their cars watching the fire, as smoke darkened the sky. Law enforcement prohibited vehicles from coming any closer, as they were hindering the fire tenders’ access to the blaze. 

Water-bombing helicopters collected seawater and released it on the fire. 

4

People walking the streets of Simon’s Town’s take a moment to look at the orange sky filled with smoke, 19 December 2023. (Photo: Kyra Wilkinson)

Read more in Daily Maverick: Western Cape braced for worst fire season in eight years

At dusk, a massive plume of smoke billowed over Cape Town’s Deep South. With a fierce southeaster fanning the flames, the smoke could be seen from Muizenberg. 

5

Firefighters arrive in Barnard Street and work together with the residents to extinguish fire moving across the mountain, 19 December 2023. (Photo: Kyra Wilkinson)

When Daily Maverick returned to Simon’s Town at 6pm, the town’s Main Road was crowded with residents and tourists — some wearing masks; most gazing at the inferno on the hillside. 

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Firefighters arrive in Barnard Street and work together with the residents to extinguish the fire moving across the mountain, 19 December 2023. (Photo: Kyra Wilkinson)

6

Apocalyptic views of a not-so-busy main road heading towards Simon’s Town. The skies are heavy in smoke and bits of ash fly around, 19 December 2023. (Photo: Kyra Wilkinson)

At around 7pm, Daily Maverick arrived at Barnard Street, at the top of Simon’s Town. Locals stood outside their homes, some watering their walls and lawns to keep them damp, and others fearing their houses were at risk. The City of Cape Town’s Fire and Rescue Services were on the scene as flames lapped at the roadside. 

7

Residents of Simon’s Town claim they are not foreign to mountain fires. (Photo: Kyra Wilkinson)

8

Firefighting helicopters release sea water on to the mountain fire near Barnard Street, 19 December 2023. (Photo: Kyra Wilkinson)

9

A firefighter heads off with his team to put out the fire that broke out near Barnard Street, 19 December 2023. (Photo: Kyra Wilkinson)

11

The fire, which began near Castle Rock, has made its way across the mountain, just above houses in Simon’s Town, 19 December 2023. (Photo: Kyra Wilkinson)

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The City’s Fire and Rescue services worked throughout the day to tame the flames in Simon’s Town, 19 December 2023. (Photo: Kyra Wilkinson)

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Residents stand in Cornwall Street and watch in shock as the fire burns quite closely to houses within the neighbourhood of Simon’s Town, 19 December 2023. (Photo: Kyra Wilkinson)

 

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Fire raging on since as early as 7am, 19 December 2023. (Photo: Kyra Wilkinson): Note: this article was updated at 9.30am on December 20.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Chris Lee says:

    Hats off to all involved – the firefighting teams have had a very rough night and deserve every accolade it’s possible to give; come 5:30 we’re being buzzed non-stop by the helicopters who are back on the job and I am sure they will make short work of it now.

  • Nicole Liebetrau says:

    Apocalyptic scenes indeed. As a new day dawns and hopefully the wind dies down, the fire can be controlled. I hope there is no loss of life. As always our thanks must remain with the firefighters and teams of service individuals who risk their lives for the safety of others. They are the true heroes.

  • Peter Doble says:

    A top drawer on the spot actual news report. Full marks to the rescue and emergency teams and congratulations to DM, the reporters and Kyra for excellent photography.

  • Eric Pelser says:

    To the brave fire fighters who battled the whole night to save my house- I will be forever grateful. To the blond dreadlocked pissant who bounded up my driveway for some disaster porn pics – I’m still pleased I told you to go fuck yourself

  • Bewe 1414 says:

    Well done to all the Firefighters!

  • George 007 says:

    Let this be a warning not to build houses on the urban interface. Any neighborhood named after a Kloof here in ST is in danger. The gum trees need to go, too.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    This is not about baboons…. they should have been noted, as an aside, at the back of the article.
    Great photography and of course, a largely efficient force of firefighters.

    • Joanne Douwes says:

      The fires devastate all life – very grateful to the animal rescue teams for their amazing work. And thank you DM for mentioning this. Too often the devastation caused to animals, insects and birds does not even get a mention.

    • Carsten Rasch says:

      All wildlife, especially baboons are as much part of the Simon’s Town community s humans. Sies, Geoff.

  • Dani Werner says:

    I have fond memories of playing on the side of the mountain as a child when I had family living there. This fire is so devastating to learn about. A big hug to all residents and a high five to all fire fighters and animal welfare services. Someone else commented about the mention of baboons in a negative way; I personally am grateful for their mention. We share this world with other life, and they are also worthy of our care and consideration!

  • Yves Ducommun says:

    Firstly, all our gratitude to the firefighters, be it on foot, trucks or in the air.
    Secondly, why isn’t the CoCT equipped with planes rather than choppers?

    Huey can carry up to 700l of water. They’re grounded when the wind picks up.

    Canadair CL-515 is specifically designed for one purpose: firefighting. It can engulf up to 7.000l of water in just 14 seconds, even from the ocean (depending on the swell). Together with fire retardant, it will drop it’s load at very short range and back. They can operate under strong winds (like in south of France during mistral times). It’s tank capacity will allow several return trips before having to refuel. Imagine what a fleet of 3 Canadair can do?
    Of course one has to consider the cost of purchasing such firefighting planes, but what is the combines cost of the regular fires we endure in our region (houses, endemic vegetation, wildlife, human lives even…)?
    Currently there are 164 firefighting planes used in 11 countries, mostly in Canada, Europe, USA and some in Asia.

    I’ve got contacts of some Officers, flight instructors & firefighters, willing to help. Maybe something to consider?

    • Andrew Newman says:

      I think helicopters are more versatile and accurate.
      Canadair CL-515 may be great on Canada’s lakes and the Mediterranean but it will rarely be able to land or fill up on our seas. Canadair CL-515 wave limit is 2m, but the avg. wave height in False Bay is 3m. In that case it will have to fly to Steenbras Dam to fill up, a round trip of 90km.
      The helicopters can fill up from any size dam, pool or sea and be back in minutes. They can also be used to drop off firefighters if necessary.

  • Stephen Horn says:

    Fantastic reporting and photographs, however, please include at least one sentence about wildfires becoming more severe/frequent due to global heating caused by the burning of fossil fuels in all related reporting. The public is largely unaware of this link and needs continual reminding to pressure policymakers to act. Thank you DM!

    • Andre Grobler says:

      Definitely we need more large herbivores and more space for them so the natural areas can function better, and not have so much drying oxidising material standing around waiting for a fire… it must be put down into the ground to put the carbon in the soil where it belongs, feeding the ecosystem

    • Martin Horn says:

      So now you want DM to include speculative propaganda which has no place in a factual news report? (Must they now descend to level of the BBC?) There are plenty of relevant scientists (eg atmospheric physicists at MIT, etc who actually understand the many mechanisms involved) who don’t agree with you. They point out that there are many other factors that affect global temperatures at orders of magnitude higher rates and so it is irrational to blame it all on fossil fuels. Personally I am all for cutting particulate pollution from cars, etc to protect human health, but that is a different issue.

  • Penny Philip says:

    Great pics! Especially the top one from Kalk Bay!

  • Alex Divov says:

    In 1966 when I did my active citizen force military service in the Navy, we were frequently called out for firefighting. Does that still happen?
    Do we still have a navy?

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