Vredehoek residents in Cape Town City Bowl began evacuating their homes as strong winds picked on Monday. Picture Henk Kruger/African News Agency(ANA)
Vredehoek residents in Cape Town City Bowl began evacuating their homes as strong winds picked on Monday. Picture Henk Kruger/African News Agency(ANA)

Firefighters and officials had a hellish Monday fighting Cape Town fire

By Shakirah Thebus Time of article published Apr 20, 2021

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Cape Town - The strong south-easterly winds fanned the flames of the devastating fire on Table Mountain on Monday making it impossible for helicopters to assist in dousing the flames.

The flames were making their way down the mountain towards Walmer Estate on Monday, and some Walmer Estate residents even helped to fight the flames making their way towards homes in Upper Melbourne Road.

They were later assisted by firefighters.

Resident Nazeem Ebrahim said: “When we saw the small fire on Sunday, we were already preparing. We know the wind, and we know the effects of the wind, and we won’t leave the community in the cold just like that, so the City’s Disaster Management should have trucks stationed here.”

At about 10am, the City’s Disaster Risk Management spokesperson Charlotte Powell said Ministerial Estate, Disa Park and Mountain View complex in Vredehoek were evacuated, including all schools.

Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia de Lille said one minister’s Cape Town residence in Newlands, which was owned by the department, was completely destroyed by the fire on Sunday afternoon.

“Thankfully, no-one was hurt, and no one was in the property at the time.”

She said yesterday family members of three members of the executive have been evacuated from Walmer Estate properties, as there was an immediate threat as the fire crossed Philip Kgosana Drive.

“The family members of one minister and two deputy ministers were evacuated from Walmer Estate properties,” she said in statement.

Western Cape Education Department spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said 17 schools were granted permission to send learners home, due to health and safety concerns.

“The effects of smoke inhalation and respiratory problems were raised. Many of the schools situated in the areas affected by the fire are commuter schools, so concerns were also raised regarding transport for affected learners if an evacuation was called,” said Hammond.

City spokesperson Janine Willemans said yesterday morning that firefighting efforts were concentrated in Vredehoek and Philip Kgosana Drive and at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

The City said about eight structures have been damaged, including four UCT buildings.

More than 250 firefighters from the City, Table Mountain National Park (TMNP), Working on Fire and Volunteer Wildfire Services battled the fires.

The City’s Fire and Rescue Services spokesperson, Jermaine Carelse, said four firefighters were injured while fighting the blaze: two City firefighters and two external firefighters.

Police arrested a man in connection with the blaze on Sunday.

Police spokesperson Andrè Traut said a 35-year-old man was arrested at 8.10pm in Philip Kgosana Drive, by City law enforcement and charged with arson.

“It is alleged that a member of the local neighbourhood watch witnessed three suspects making a fire on the mountain, and alerted authorities. Two of the suspects managed to evade arrest. The circumstances surrounding the case are being investigated and an appearance in court is yet to be scheduled,” said Traut.

People have been urged to stay away from the mountain and not use it for recreational purposes.

South African National Parks (SANParks) spokesperson Rey Thakhuli said rangers had to stop people from going about their day-to day activities within TMNP yesterday morning.

The public was requested to refrain from entering the Newlands Forest, Groote Schuur Estate, Rhodes Memorial, Devil’s Peak, Tafelberg Road, Vredehoek and Deer Park sections of the park.

Thakhuli said more than 400 hectares have been damaged so far.

Table Mountain Aerial Cableway managing director Wahida Parker said all operations at the cableway would remain suspended until the area was declared safe.

UCT Vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng thanked everyone for their support, as well as the university’s staff.

“We’ve had to evacuate about 4 000 students from residences to hotels around Cape Town. That wasn’t an easy task, and it’s all thank you to our staff, wardens, sub-wardens who came to help us,” she said.

Cape Argus

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