Easter readiness: Table Mountain National Parks to joins SAPS in hunting down firebugs

Table Mountain National Park rangers with canine support. Picture: Shakirah Thebus

Table Mountain National Park rangers with canine support. Picture: Shakirah Thebus

Published Mar 14, 2024

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Cape Town - With over more than 20 fires started with malicious intent, Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) has said it would be working with police to apprehend the suspects.

At the Newlands Fire Base yesterday, TMNP manager Megan Taplin said that the park had seen more fires this year compared to previous years, with 26 fires in December and 36 in January.

“We are working with the SAPS to try and investigate this and see if we can get a handle on the person or persons that are starting fires – and those fires have mainly been in the south of the park.”

From April last year to date, the park recorded 106 fires compared to the 77 recorded for the same period the previous year.

One of the more severe fires was in Simon’s Town, Castle Rock, which started at the backend of December and burnt for nine days, placing enormous pressure on all the resources.

The probable cause was reported to be a cooking fire.

Another severe fire was the Trappieskop, Kalk Bay fire in February, which was the only fire throughout the fire season in which a residential house was affected.

The probable cause was likely malicious.

“The amazing thing is that throughout all these 107 fires, there has been no loss of lives, no major injuries and no infrastructure except for that one house.

“That just shows what sort of effort is being put into the fires in terms of the firefighters on the ground, which are up to 200 at any one time, the helicopters or aerial resources that are deployed as well as the fire vehicles on the ground,” Taplin said.

Trends have also shown that more fires started on a Wednesday and Saturday, with the main cause of the fires being unnatural.

“The majority of fires we found start from homeless people starting cooking fires within the park and then they get out of control.

“We also have a number of fires that start from religious groups who go into the park, they want to be in a natural area and they have ceremonies which involve fire or candles and those get out of control … and unfortunately, we’ve had quite a few instances that we link to malicious fires that have been started.”

Another major cause was due to negligence by people who throw cigarette butts into the park or burning something.

Only one natural fire was recorded in which a boulder fell, causing a spark that resulted in a fire.

“In terms of safety and security, what we have to deal with at TMNP is firstly environmental crimes like abalone poaching, people collecting flowers illegally, and herbs, and people stripping bark in the forest areas for medicinal purposes. And then of course the crimes against visitors, which really doesn’t happen much in other national parks.”

These included muggings, theft out of vehicles or theft of vehicles.

Taplin said that sometimes it was a single individual responsible for multiple cases of theft.

On December 14, a gunman was arrested on Signal Hill who had been responsible for several muggings.

Incident figures had notably dropped following the suspect’s arrest through a co-ordinated operation with the City.

Taplin said that it was important to lodge a police complaint that would allow TMNP to investigate jointly with the police.

The TMNP operations room control officer, Ayesha Davids, said a third of incidents were reported outside of the peak seasons.

More incidents were reported with an increase of tourism, with Lion’s Head being one of the main spots due to frequent hiking by visitors.

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