Soon after the Muizenberg fire started, JP Smith, mayco member for safety and security, attributed the fire to a cigarette butt being tossed, although some experts say the conditions would have had to be just right for this to happen. File photo: Nic Bothma

Cape Town - Capetonians are reaching for their phones to report motorists who throw burning cigarette butts out of their cars, even as the Cape burns.

Calls to the “stompie” hotline soared from an average of seven calls a day last month to 88 in a single day, just days after the fire started in Muizenberg on March 1.

From March 2 to 10 there were nearly 500 complaints to the 24-hour emergency control centre which was set up in 2007.

The number to call is 021 424 7715.

Jaco Groenewald, head of operations for the centre, said this was the biggest spike they had seen in a long time.

“After any big fires the number gets publicised, so we do get more calls.”

They hand the complaints to the city’s fire and rescue service, which investigates.

Whistle blowers must provide the location, date and time of the incident and a description of the vehicle and registration number.

Witnesses will also need to provide their name and contact details and may be required to give an affidavit to the police.

The city says if the investigation concludes that the tossing of the cigarette butt could have caused a fire, the person will be fined up to R1 000.

In 2006, Briton Anthony Cooper faced charges of culpable homicide and arson after he was accused of starting a blaze on Table Mountain by throwing a cigarette butt out of a car window.

The fire spread and resulted in the death of a British tourist, Janet Chesworth, but two years later Cooper was acquitted on both charges.

Soon after the Muizenberg fire started, JP Smith, mayco member for safety and security, attributed the fire to a cigarette butt being tossed, although some experts say the conditions would have had to be just right for this to happen.

In Australia, however, smoking has been banned in a number of national parks.

And a student at the University of Technology in Sydney conducted an experiment last year showing that under the right conditions cigarettes could spark fires.

With a wind speed of 40km/h, grass moisture content about 12 percent of oven-dry weight, and humidity at 14 percent, she lit cigarettes and threw them into grass on the side of a road.

In three out of the 75 trials, or 4 percent, the grass caught alight and started to burn, requiring firefighters to extinguish the flames.

The day the fires started here, it was a hot day (maximum temperature 27°C) at the end of a dry summer, with the south-easter pumping at 47km/h.

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Cape Argus