Residents urged to play their part to prevent further fires

On Monday, the city was left in a cloud of smoke as the devastating mountain fire raged on since Sunday. Vredehoek residents in the Cape Town City Bowl began evacuating their homes early on Monday as strong winds picked up at about 2am and kept fanning a fire that started the previous night.

Table Mountain National Parks says it could take more than a week to extinguish the fires that caused such devastation in Cape Town since Sunday, gutting several buildings at UCT, damaging part of the Rhodes Memorial restaurant and the historic Mostert Mill and causing the evacuation of residents, including residents in Vredehoek.

“This fire is not going to take one or two days, it’s going to take much longer. Hopefully, we can get containment very soon but to extinguish the fire, to put it out completely, that’s going to take more than a week,” said Table Mountain National Parks fire manager, Philip Prins.

Anton Bredell, Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning MEC, also said on Tuesday the danger is not entirely over just yet. Mr Bredell said the first priority remains fully extinguishing all of the fire lines and dampening down the affected areas over the next few days while monitoring for flare-ups.

The wind dropped significantly overnight on Monday night, allowing helicopters to water-bomb fire lines on Tuesday. Multiple SANDF Oryx helicopters, which were unable to be deployed on Monday due to fierce winds, were helping to contain the fire on Tuesday morning with water bombs in a smoke-filled City Bowl.

Residents around the top roads of Vredehoek were evacuated from their homes on Monday morning as strong winds fuelled the fire that started on Sunday in the Rhodes Memorial vicinity.

More than 250 firefighters from the City of Cape Town, Table Mountain National Park, Working on Fire and the Volunteer Wildfire Services battled the blaze and worked throughout the night to control the fire. The City of Cape Town said the fire spread towards the Vredehoek area as a result of the south-easter.

The wind speed increased from about 2am on Monday and additional fire crews were stationed at Pepper Tree and Chelmsford area.

The City’s Disaster Risk Management spokesperson, Charlotte Powell, said residents from Peppertree Road, Ministerial Estate, Disa Park and Mountain View complex were evacuated. All schools in the area were asked to evacuate.

She said the City’s Air Quality Monitoring Unit has recorded very high levels of particulate matter (PM10 and PM 2.5) at the foreshore monitoring station and asthmatics and other sensitive receptors with respiratory conditions were urged to stay indoors and keep windows closed.

At a press conference on Tuesday, April 20, JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security, said there were so many opportunities that the fire could have had more devastating consequences and they were grateful that there were no loss of lives or damage to residential property.

He said Vredehoek was a threat on Tuesday morning and they deployed additional seasonal firefighters to battle the blaze.

Vredehoek resident Linda Munro said they were woken up in the wee hours of Monday and were told to vacate their homes. “We had to pack up our essentials within minutes. Kids were confused and the wind worsened the situation. It’s really been a sad day not only for the institution affected but nature as well,” she said.

Another resident, Samantha Louw, said they woke up to officials telling them to evacuate their homes through megaphones. She said when they went to bed the night before being evacuated, she didn’t think it would get to this. “It was terrifying, a fire raging like that and windy weather, I had lost hope,”she said.

City’s Fire and Rescue services spokesperson, Jermaine Carelse, said five firefighters were injured as they battled the blaze and were receiving medical treatment.

Mr Smith said they commend the firefighters, Disaster Risk Management staff and volunteers, the enforcement staff and every other agency and individual who have played a role in the efforts to contain the fire, and continue to do so.

He said there is a lot of speculation currently about additional fires that were started, and whether the original fire was an act of arson.

A 35-year-old suspect, taken into custody in the vicinity of Devil’s Peak on Sunday night, appeared in court on Tuesday.

National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson, Eric Ntabazalila, said Frederick Mhangazo, a Tanzanian national, appeared at Cape Town Regional Court and was charged with arson.

Mr Ntabazalila said the case was postponed to Wednesday April 28 for bail information.

Mr Smith urged the residents to assist authorities by following instructions and staying away from the scenes and by reporting any information that may be relevant to the investigations into this incident.

Premier Alan Winde thanked the team and front-line workers who did all they could to fight the fire. He urged residents to play their part. “It’s still hot in the province and dry, we haven’t had our rains started, they normally would have started by now. We have fire teams that are doing their best to control this fire, but please play your part,” he said.