City under fire

SANDF helicopters were called in to water bomb the fire. Picture: Devin Trull

The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa in Camps Bay say the damage from the first major vegetation fire of the season could have been significantly less.

The hotel had to be evacuated last Friday as the fire, which began on Wednesday, spread rapidly. Now Michael Tollman, a director of the Red Carnation Hotel Group, said that they had applied three years ago to the City to sub-divide a portion of land around the hotel.

However, he said, their application to the City of Cape Town had been held up by “bureaucracy and red-tape”.

The hotel fire started between Camps Bay and Hout Bay and continued to spread over the weekend until rain helped firefighters bring it under control.

The fire had started on a private property.

“It is most unfortunate that the recent incident has highlighted, once again, the inadequacy of the fire-fighting infrastructure available to the hotel and the fire-fighting authorities. The hotel was under severe threat of burning to the ground, but the fire hydrants, at the back of the property were rendered inadequate when the fire department started to pump water from the front of the hotel, due to the low water pressure,” he said.

The hotel’s 102 guests were relocated to other hotels until the Twelve Apostles Hotel reopened on Monday October 16.

Hotel management said that guests had been refunded for that night and were subsequently offered accommodation at the Table Bay Hotel.

Mr Tollman said they were grateful to the other hotels who had helped accommodate guests, but complained that discussions with the City on the matter had been frustrating. “This situation is the result of an ongoing discussion with the City of Cape Town that has come to a grinding halt.

“Despite repeated pleas to bring this matter to finality over this period, the application has progressed at an exceptionally slow pace,” added Mr Tollman.

Michael Nel, general manager of the Twelve Apostles, also thanked the other hotels as well the firefighters.

“Our most sincere thanks also go out to the approximately 140 firefighters who were deployed and Dean Ferreira and his team from NCC Environmental Services all of whom worked tirelessly and bravely in extraordinary circumstances to protect our property. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your heroism and incredible efforts in saving our hotel.”

Mr Nel said that there would be a significant clean-up operation with approximately 100 staff at work in the hotel, deep-cleaning to remove the soot and the smell of smoke.

According to Mr Nel, the clean-up was expected to continue for number of weeks.

The City of Cape Town’s Mayoral committee member for safety and security; and social services, JP Smith, said the cause of the fire was being investigated.

He appealed to residents to be especially cautious during the warmer months between November and April when Cape Town was at a high risk for uncontrolled and runaway vegetation fires.

Mr Smith said that the City’s Fire and Rescue Services teams deal with more than 7 000 vegetation fires every year, most of which occur in the summer months.

”The combination of high temperatures and gale-force south-easterly winds is a major contributing factor in the rapid spread of fires. There are two main types of fire in Cape Town – vegetation and structural – and both can be prevented in most cases,” he said.

Mr Smith also said that the water shortage crisis in Cape Town was having a drastic impact in how they fought fires.

“Firefighting is becoming more labour-intensive, with the use of bear beaters, rakes and other equipment to cordon off the areas around veld fires, as part of containing them. In addition, firefighters will use seawater, dam water and river water wherever possible.

“Drinking water will only be used where there is no alternative and where time is a preventative factor. For vegetation fires, the helicopters contracted for the summer season will use sea water to fight flames in areas that are inaccessible to firefighters. On the ground, greater emphasis will be placed on perimeter firefighting and monitoring.”

Mr Smith added that the City was also looking at ways of becoming more water wise when it came to fighting fires.

Among the measures implemented were that Fire and Rescue Services had started setting up Jojo tanks at fire stations to harvest rainwater that could be used to help fill motor pumps after returning from an incident, while a study was currently under way to determine whether treated effluent could potentially be used to fight fires.

Spokesperson for SANParks, Merle Collins, said unpredictable weather conditions led to the rapid spread of the fire in Oudekraal last week. She said that three Working on Fire Huey helicopters and one fixed-wing Spotter plane had been dispatched to Cape Town last week.

In addition, 35 Table Mountain National Park-contracted firefighters, 80 Working on Fire firefighters and nine volunteers from the Volunteer Wildfire Services as well as staff from the Cape Peninsula Fire Protection Association were fighting the fire on the ground.

“At this stage we don’t know what caused the fire. The fire started on private property.”

Ms Collins added that weather conditions and the water shortage had “definite impact and we had to adapt to these conditions.”

She advised homeowners who live close to the mountain “to get rid of unnecessary rubble or overhanging trees close to their property.”

She added that alien vegetation is bad for fires as it burns hotter and faster.

The National Sea Rescue Service Institute (NSRI) also helped relocate the Twelve Apostles guests last week.

Lyall Pringle, NSRI Hout Bay station commander, said while most of the guests had been relocated to other hotels in the area, 11 guests and 99 staff members had been taken to the NSRI sea rescue base in Hout Bay from where staff were ferried home and the guests were relocated to other hotels from the NSRI base.

“NSRI were then informed that embers were falling in the vicinity of the Twelve Apostles Hotel and NSRI Kommetjie dispatched their sea rescue vehicle, towing their fire pump to the Twelve Apostles Hotel and the fire pump was set up, together with the hotels own fire extinguishers, to assist to dampen down the area and to remain on alert if the fire face reached the hotel.”

Atlantic Sun asked the City to respond to the hotel’s claims but by the time this edition went to print, they had not yet responded.