The report ruled out natural causes such as rock falls or lightning strikes or an accidental/negligent incident such as an abandoned camping/cooking fire as possible causes of the fire. File picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency(ANA)
The report ruled out natural causes such as rock falls or lightning strikes or an accidental/negligent incident such as an abandoned camping/cooking fire as possible causes of the fire. File picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency(ANA)

Cape Town fire, which damaged UCT buildings, likely started as a malicious act

By Staff Reporter Time of article published Jun 24, 2021

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Cape Town - South African National Parks (SANParks) has announced that natural causes have been ruled out as a possible cause for the Table Mountain National Park fire that damaged UCT buildings.

This was revealed on Thursday where SANParks held a briefing to disclose the findings from an independent fire report on the wildfire.

The fire burned about 600 hectares of land within the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP), buildings on the UCT’s upper campus and some neighbouring properties on April 18, 2021.

The report ruled out natural causes such as rock falls or lightning strikes or an accidental/negligent incident such as an abandoned camping/cooking fire as possible causes of the fire.

According to SANParks acting chief executive officer Dr Luthando Dziba the report also confirms that the fire was not started by homeless persons as was initially alleged.

Dziba also said various potential causes of the fire were thoroughly assessed by an independent investigator, Enviro Wildfire.

He stated that the report provides compelling evidence suggesting that the fire may have been started as a malicious act. This evidence is currently being investigated by law enforcement agencies.

The report states that according to CCTV footage and eyewitnesses, the fire started at approximately 8.40am under extreme weather conditions, such as very warm temperatures (26°C) and low relative humidity (19%).

Within a few hours the temperature had increased to 34°C and the relative humidity had decreased to 13%, with a prevailing north-westerly breeze of approximately 12km/h.

These conditions, in addition to dry vegetation, presented an ideal environment for the rapid spread of the fire due to the high fire danger index.

In turn, the increase in wind speed and a change in the wind direction caused embers to land outside of the burn area where they ignited the surrounding veld.

According to Dziba, the situation could have been much worse if the strategic relationship between SANParks and various stakeholders, including the City of Cape Town, were not in place.

“This provided for a well organised effort in suppressing the fire from the ground and air-support within reasonably good time.”

The firefighting team consisted of SANParks, NCC Environmental Services, City of Cape Town, Working on Fire, Volunteers Wildfire Services and the SANDF.

Five fire-fighters were reportedly injured while fighting the fire.

“These men and women acted in the best interest of the community despite the extremely grim weather conditions and did so at their own risk to their welfare and safety,” Dziba said.

Extensive damage occurred to the Rhodes Memorial restaurant, UCT, the historic Mostert Mill and various private properties as a result of windblown smouldering embers landing on dry combustible materials such as thatch, exotic pines, palm trees, ivy and leaves in gutters.

Dziba also thanked Cape Town residents and businesses for their donations of food, drinks and other necessities for the firefighters and commended the firefighters for their bravery and dedication.

He also thanked the members of the public who assisted the investigation.

The full report can be viewed below:

The independent fire report is also available from the SANParks website at the following link: https://www.sanparks.org/about/news/?id=58294.

Cape Argus

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