Picture: Phando Jikelo

IF YOU are holidaying in Cape Town and are worried about your safety after the recent fires there, do not be afraid as there are still ways to enjoy your much deserved break.

Last week, ANA reported that firefighters battled 106 blazes in and around Cape Town within a day.

Among them was a devastating mountain fire in Somerset West that saw more than 120 firefighters, 12 fire engines and 10 water tankers battle the mountain vegetation fire on the slopes of the Helderberg on Tuesday.

There were also fires on the slopes of Table Mountain above Victoria Road in Llandudno, a fire on De Waal Drive in Zonnebloem, and a fire near Big Bay Boulevard on the West Coast Road.

One of the businesses affected was the Lourensford Wine Estate in Somerset West that had 600 hectares of their land burnt and its sawmill damaged.

The chief executive of Lourensford Wine Estate, Koos Jordaan, said it was a big scare for the business, and some vineyards and orchards were affected.

However, he said that aside from the Friday evening markets being cancelled, everything was back to normal, including the wine tours.

“We are monitoring the situation and most of the fynbos, plantations and the saw mill was damaged. Once the entire issue is accessed then only can we give an accurate figure of all the damages and costs,” he said.

Meanwhile, after a devastating fire on the Simonsberg last year, the Delheim Start of Harvest Festival returns on January 28 and 29.

The fire last January raged for five days and destroyed many hectares of indigenous fynbos, pine forests and vineyards. All the farms around the mountain were affected, causing them R3.5  million in lost revenue.

The event at the celebrated Stellenbosch wine farm is among the first to usher in the grape-picking season’s hustle-and-bustle.

Kimala Ross, communications and PR manager for Cape Town Tourism, said fires in the city and surrounding areas could affect visitors by damaging places of accommodation or top tourist hangouts.

The fires could also cause traffic to be rerouted, or total road closures, resulting in delays. Last week, there were road closures on the N2 and the road to Bezweni Lodge, among others.

“The fires could have devastating consequences for visitors who are seeking to enjoy our beautiful natural environment.

“However, we encourage visitors to avoid the areas experiencing firefighting efforts, and rather to explore other parts of the city until the fires are under control. There is so much to see and do in the Mother City that the fires should not have such a negative impact on the tourism industry, except, of course, for any tourism businesses that have had direct fire damage,” Ross said.

She recommends that tourists not drive to the affected areas to see the fire or take photographs as traffic congestion near fires can hamper firefighting and other rescue efforts.

Lighting fires unless authorised to do so is prohibited, said Ross.

“Some people light fires on the mountain or in areas of vegetation that could be the cause of fires, although there are no statistics to prove this. My suggestion is that one should not light fires unless permitted. People should ensure that all embers are extinguished if they have a braai."

Social media is one of the ways to stay on track with fire-related news. “This helps when tourists or visitors plan outings and day trips. One of the Twitter accounts to follow is @wo_fire,” Ross said.

While fires may cause some disruptions, they can also be beneficial to vegetation. Fynbos profits from fire as the heat causes seeds to germinate.

This should only happen after a few years.

So what happens if one is confronted with a fire? Ross said visitors should immediately evacuate areas where there are fires and ensure that safe routes are chosen.

Once safety is established, local authorities should be contacted to alert them of the presence of a fire.

She warns that people should never approach an area where there are fires as they are dangerous.

TIPS:

• Never discard cigarette butts from car windows.

• If hiking, avoid fire-affected areas and bear in mind that hot conditions and wind can make fires highly unpredictable. In the event of a fire on the mountain, evacuate using a safe route.

• Always hike with someone who knows the mountain to ensure you don’t get lost or lose sight of the paths.

• Ensure you are familiar with evacuation procedures at places of accommodation and other venues.

• Areas affected by fire remain danger spots for several days after the fires have been extinguished and should not be explored.

• Never use fireworks.