Natural causes were ruled out as a cause of the fire as well as accidental/negligence or vagrant activity such as an abandoned camp or cooking fires. Picture: Sisonke Mlamla/Cape Argus
Natural causes were ruled out as a cause of the fire as well as accidental/negligence or vagrant activity such as an abandoned camp or cooking fires. Picture: Sisonke Mlamla/Cape Argus

Suspicious vehicle seen at site of Table Mountain fire

By Shakirah Thebus Time of article published Jun 25, 2021

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Cape Town - Independent fire investigator, Enviro Wildfire Services is looking at offering a reward of up to R10 000 to anyone for information pertaining to a vehicle as seen on CCTV footage, at the site of the uncontrollable blaze that destroyed about 600ha of land on Table Mountain in April.

The fire that caused extensive damage to historical buildings, a number of buildings at UCT’s upper and middle campuses, and private property, started at about 8.40am on April 18, at Hospital Bend in close proximity to Philip Kgosana Drive.

South African National Parks (SANParks) appointed Enviro Wildfire Services to conduct an independent investigation into the cause of the fire.

A summary of the report findings was shared during a media briefing at the SANParks headquarters in Tokai, on Thursday.

“Using CCTV footage, we were able to determine that before the fire started, a vehicle was observed pulling off the road, onto the shoulder of the road, and proceeded to drive very slowly on the shoulder of the road until a point approximately opposite to where the fire had originated.

“Without stopping the vehicle then carried on driving off the shoulder of the road back onto the road and proceeded on Nelson Mandela Drive…

“We know the make and model of the vehicle but we will not be providing that information to the public at this point in the investigation,” said lead investigator Rob Erasmus.

Natural causes were ruled out as a cause of the fire as well as accidental/negligence or vagrant activity such as an abandoned camp or cooking fires.

The evidence is currently being investigated by law enforcement.

The fire spread as a result of windblown smouldering embers landing in and on dry combustible materials such as thatch, exotic pines, palm trees, ivy, and leaves in gutters, the report found.

Unfavourable conditions such as low humidity and warm weather contributed to the spread of the fire.

“The fire was so extreme that once that fire had started to run with the wind, the amount of smoke obscured the head of the fire, that fire that was running towards Rhodes Memorial, it could not be seen by the helicopter pilots.

“So despite their extensive efforts to stop the fire from spreading, it was not possible.”

There are currently two investigations under way, for the fire that started in the morning and another for three separate fires that started in the evening at around 8.35pm, adjacent to Philip Kgosana Drive.

The three separate fires did not contribute to the spread or loss suffered as a result of the morning fire and there is no link between the two, according to the report.

One man was arrested for starting the evening fire.

SANParks acting chief executive Dr Luthando Dziba, thanked the City for its response to the fire and the public for coming forward with information as well as with donations.

“I think we need to mention that the investigation is still continuing and so it is a summary of the investigation to date,” said Dziba.

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

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