Maverick Citizen

FIRE SEASON

Hundreds displaced after string of flames rips through Cape Town informal settlements

Hundreds displaced after string of flames rips through Cape Town informal settlements
Gift of the Givers present at the scene of the fire which struck the Hout Bay area, on 26 December 2023. (Photo: Gift of the Givers/ Supplied)

Hundreds of people living in informal settlements in Cape Town have been displaced after fires ripped through their homes over the Christmas period.

“It’s time the city views this latest incident as an indicator that the biggest issue is land,” said Loyiso Skoti, a resident of Imizamo Yethu informal settlement in Cape Town’s Greater Hout Bay Valley after a fire destroyed several houses in the settlement on Tuesday night, 26 December.

In the two days preceding this blaze — Christmas Day and Christmas Eve — fires destroyed more than 100 homes in three informal settlements in Cape Town.

The City of Cape Town’s Fire and Rescue Services spokesperson, Jermaine Carelse, told Daily Maverick the city had been notified soon after 9pm on Tuesday, 26 December, of structures burning in Imizamo Yethu. Several crews were despatched to the scene.

Early on Wednesday morning, firefighters extinguished the fire, which destroyed 10 formal dwellings and five informal structures, displacing more than 30 people. 

Carelse said the cause of the fire was unknown and no injuries or fatalities had been reported.

The Hout Bay area experienced a fire which hit the area on 26 December and continued to the next day. A Gift of the Givers representative is present at the scene. (Photo: Gift of the Givers / Supplied)

String of fires

At 1am on Tuesday, firefighting crews were despatched to a fire on the mountain slope above Hangklip in Hout Bay. 

“Crews from SANParks and NCC assisted, and three helicopters water-bombed the area for several hours. Currently, there are ground crews on scene to monitor for any flare-ups,” Carelse said.

These were the latest in a recent string of fires that began on the mountain slopes above Castle Rock near Simon’s Town on Tuesday, 19 December.

SANParks spokesperson Rey Thakhuli said about 3,545 hectares were burnt in that fire, while about 450 hectares were burnt in an adjacent fire at Glencairn. 

Thakhuli said the fynbos that burnt in the Simon’s Town fire was mainly old growth that was overdue to burn in some places.

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

The city’s Disaster Risk Management Centre spokesperson, Charlotte Powell, said the three most destructive fires were on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

In Seawinds, 135 structures were destroyed; in Jim Se Bos, 60 structures were destroyed; and in Wallacedene, 45 structures were destroyed by fire. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Tireless battle day 8 — firefighters stretched to limit in fierce winds, scramble to help hundreds displaced across Cape Peninsula

The city said its NGO partners, Gift of the Givers and Islamic Relief SA, would provide mattresses, hot meals, blankets, baby care packs, clothing and toiletry packs to those in need.

Disaster Relief NGO Thula Thula Hout Bay has also opened a donation page for essential relief parcels (food, toiletries and baby care necessities) for those displaced by the fires.

“Our dedicated teams are on the ground, assessing the extent of the damage,” Thula Thula Hout Bay said on Wednesday. “Unfortunately, the count of those in need continues to rise.”

Gift of the Givers also sent teams to Imizamo Yethu on Wednesday morning to deliver humanitarian assistance. 

Gift of the Givers’ operations manager, Ali Sablay, said the NGO had been inundated with calls from residents of Imizamo Yethu, saying the fire had spread rapidly after being fanned by strong winds and they had battled to save belongings.  

Gift of the Givers said that since Christmas Eve, they had provided people with assistance after four fires and, in the past three weeks, they had assisted after 14 fires.

People work together to remove debris caused by the gale-force winds in Hout Bay. (Photo: Facebook / Thula Thula Hout Bay)

Backyard dwellers 

Skoti, told Daily Maverick there was a huge issue of “backyard dwellers” in Hout Bay. 

“The city promised people proper land for housing two years back and, to date, people are clueless on the development of that project,” he said. 

Skoti said the latest fire in the settlement, “was quite strange — it destroyed more than five brick homes [formal housing] and it was just started by one informal settlement around that area. This incident really took me by surprise because we don’t expect fire in that specific area where it took place. 

“It’s time the city views this latest incident as an indicator that the biggest issue is land, as people have said before.

“The lack of their communication on developments of land for houses is affecting people as well and the influx of backyard dwellers constantly increases.”

The aftermath of the fire which struck the Hout Bay area on 26 December and continued to blaze through the early hours of 27 December 2023. (Photo: Facebook / Thula Thula Hout Bay)

Other fires

The City of Cape Town’s firefighters have been battling informal settlement fires in Hillview, Philippi and Kraaifontein, where about 1,000 people have been displaced.   

On Tuesday morning, the SA Weather Service issued a Level 2 warning lasting until Thursday, 28 December of damaging southeasterly winds of between 50 and 70 kilometres per hour. The warning covered Table Bay to Cape Agulhas and goes hand in hand with a high risk of wildfires. 

“We’ve seen in recent days the challenges brought about by weather conditions, particularly in respect of fires, so the city appeals to the public to please be alert,” said Powell, advising people to:

  • Avoid working with open flames or flammable substances where possible;
  • Not toss cigarette butts out of vehicle windows; and
  • Report fires immediately.

“If you see anything that looks like it could be a fire, please report it and don’t assume that someone else has,” Carelse said.

In the event of an emergency, contact the city’s Public Emergency Communication Centre on 021 480 7700 from a cellphone or 107 from a landline.

To help fire victims, contact Gift of the Givers, or donate to Thula Thula Hout Bay’s drive to fund essential items for Imizamo Yethu residents. DM 

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  • Matthew Quinton says:

    EVERY year it’s the same.

    Hout Bay settlement burns down… Sun Valley settlement burns down.

    Residents and NGO’s raise funds… donate clothes… provide food…

    The the EXACT same shacks go up in the EXACT same places, and the residents continue EXACTLY as before… zero lessons learnt… zero change… except that even more shacks go up and even more people stream in.

    2024 will be a rinse and repeat, so will 2025 and so on and so on.

    I drove back from a surf in Kommetjie last week, and although more of the valley is relatively unchanged, Imizamo stands out as a festering filth pile. The predominantly overweight residents throng the streets in their brand new clothing, littering as they go. That once pristine valley now resembling an explosion of litter, filth and crime oozing from inside Imizamo.

    The residents were screaming drunk, running up and down the road getting in the way of traffic and generally behaving like savages.

    Not so in Ocean View, Capri, or any other suburb I drove past…. where the residents were moving lawns, cleaning their front areas and calmly enjoying their holidays.

    If the residents of Imizamo CHOSE to take a few minutes every day to tidy up and make pretty it would be a whole different story.. if the residents CHOSE to learn from the fires and put some sort of plan in place it would be a different story.

    But there is no choice.. no thought… only a headlong unthinking rush into chaos and filth.

    Unbelievable!

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