Our Burning Planet

FIRE SEASON

Cape Winelands blazes rip through thousands of hectares, people evacuated

Cape Winelands blazes rip through thousands of hectares, people evacuated
Farmers and farm workers came together to save their properties near Witelssrivier in Worcestor on 28 January 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

The Kluitjieskraal fire, which began near Wolseley in the Western Cape on Monday, has consumed 20,000 hectares of vegetation in seven days, making it the largest wildfire in the province so far this year, officials say.

The Cape Winelands District Municipality (CWDM), other local municipalities and firefighting teams from NCC, Leading Edge Aviation, Working on Fire, as well as volunteer firefighters, have been working tirelessly to contain wildfires that have destroyed thousands of hectares of land in the Western Cape since they began on Monday, 22 January.

cape winelands fire

The fire started on 22 January and edged close to farms in Worcester on Sunday. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

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

On Sunday evening, the CWDM’s spokesperson, Jo-Anne Otto, said the fires in Breede Valley and Witzenberg were burning out of control. 

“The strong northwesterly wind that picked up at around 3am has made firefighting activities difficult.

cape winelands fire

 Teams of people came together to save vineyards and properties near Witelssrivier in Worcester (Photo: Shelley Christians)

cape winelands fire

Farmers and farmworkers battled to save properties near Witelssrivier. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

“The day’s high fire danger index has impacted the fires’ behaviour; this, combined with the uneven terrain, inaccessibility and high fuel loads provided by a combination of aged fynbos and alien vegetation, has made containment difficult,” Otto said. 

“Active firefighting will continue throughout the night.”

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 Kluitjieskraal fire near Wolseley continued to rage for a sixth day on Sunday and had two active fire lines, at Bains Kloof/Slanghoek and Elandsberg. 

Otto told Daily Maverick the fire had destroyed 44 structures and people were evacuated.

cape winelands fire

A view from Slanghoek Road in Worcester of the fire burning on the mountain. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

cape winelands fire

On the right of this road in Witelssrivier near Worcester are farms and homes. Teams lined up to prevent the fire from leaping over the road. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

cape winelands fire

Teams worked together refuelling at neighbouring farms on Witelssrivier in Worcester. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

On Tuesday, holiday houses and caravan structures were destroyed by the fire at Vogelvlei Yacht Club, near Voëlvlei Dam. Another 11 houses were destroyed when the fire moved through Elandsberg. 

On Sunday, the valley was enveloped in smoke, as the largest wildfire in the Western Cape so far this year continued to sweep across thousands of hectares. 

Farmers and residents made their way on tractors and bakkies to douse the flames along the vineyards and protect what they could from the devastating blaze.  

“Firefighting has been focused on structure protection, fire suppression and burnout operations. The objective has remained trying to keep the fire line in the mountainous areas above private agricultural land. Driven by the wind, the fire has jumped the road in a few places; however, these are being managed,” Otto said.

“The day has delivered a few successes, including the creation of a firebreak by burnout, which protected private structures and an ecologically sensitive area.”

Ten ground crews, 18 firefighting vehicles and 158 firefighters were battling to contain the blaze.

Otto said Bains Kloof Pass and Slanghoek Road were open, but could be closed at short notice. 

Duration and escalation

The conservation manager of Cape Nature’s Limietberg Nature Reserve, Patrick Shone, said: “This last week we have had four days [where] the fire danger index has been above orange, and that has contributed to the spread of this fire. The conditions become extreme. You have spotting that gets out of control very quickly and you have high winds, so the fire behaviour is extreme. 

“Changing wind directions makes it very difficult for the guys because you work a fire line and then the wind changes direction, that moves the fire in the opposite direction. Now the wind has changed to a northwesterly and it’s going to be pushing northwesterly for the next two days, and then that’s pushing it in the opposite direction.  

“On Tuesday, the initial estimation of land burnt was about 6,000 hectares. Six thousand hectares were burnt in about 12 to 14 hours, so that just gives you an indication of the rapid expansion.”

On Sunday morning it was estimated that about 20,000 hectares had been burnt.

Fairy Glen fire, Worcester 

On Sunday, a fire which began in Fairy Glen, near Worcester on Friday, 26 January had burnt more than 2,000 hectares of veld and destroyed four structures. 

“Good progress has been made on these fire lines, and [firefighters] have managed to prevent the fire from spreading into the bluegum plantation; however, teams will continue with active firefighting throughout the night,” Otto said. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    There were dozens of fires over the region the weekend. Hats off and a big THANK YOU to the fire department and private citizens that help fight these fire. If people can’t physically help, they can help by taking water and energy food to their fire department or drop it at a control station near a major fire.

  • Andrew Baigrie says:

    Our farmers need to practice good fynbos and alien growth practice. The former needs a controlled burn every 15 or so years (managed by fire services) and aliens (port jackson, rooikrans and wattle) need to be eradicated and sprayed if cut down. Local communities could be employed helping the professionals by doing this, in the wet season.

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