Cape Town - Table Mountain National Park is still counting the cost of this month’s devastating mountain fires, reporting that it lost an estimated R6 million in infrastructure, and that the Silvermine and Tokai recreation areas would be closed for between six months and two years.
In addition to the infrastructure loss, the closure of the recreation areas will mean a huge loss in revenue. Two tented camps on a section of the popular Hoerikwaggo Trail in Silvermine and several footpaths were also destroyed, as well as long stretches of uninsured boardwalks.
The park estimated that it had cost between R5.5m and R6m to fight the fires, with R4.8m in aerial costs alone, according to fire manager Philip Prins.
Park manager Paddy Gordon said there would also be a huge increase in alien vegetation clearing costs over the next few years as plants such as Australian wattles reseeded after fires.
The park already spends about R25m a year on alien clearing.
Gordon said the fires would have been much worse if they hadn’t cleared the aliens they had.
The cause of the fires was still being investigated. The park’s fire expert, Rob Erasmus from Enviro Wildfire Services, had given them a preliminary report on Thursday, and a full report would be available in two weeks.
Erasmus told the Cape Argus earlier that more than one ignition point had been found where the fire started above Boyes Drive.
And the Scarborough fire a few days later had been deliberately set.
Gordon said at a briefing in Newlands on Thursday that the impact of the fire on tourism wouldn’t be that huge because top tourist attractions, including Boulder’s Beach, most of Cape Point and the Table Mountain Cableway, had not been affected.
However, events such as the Cape Town Cycle Tour had had to be shortened and re-routed and the organisers of the Two Oceans Marathon were still looking at whether to change the route.
He said the biggest impact would be on recreational users such as mountain bikers and dog walkers.
“Silvermine is not dangerous but is very sensitive and we will need to rebuild the footpaths and boardwalks.”
Some of the trees in Tokai had died standing up and were now crashing down.
Immediate plans after the fire were for the harvesting company to speed up operations in Tokai Forest.
Gordon said harvesting the Tokai plantation would have been done over the next decade but would now have to be carried out a lot quicker, and the park’s rehabilitation plan would also need to be speeded up.
The park’s assessors had been out to look at the damage to buildings, water systems and footpaths. The boardwalks had not been insured but the buildings were. Fifteen buildings were damaged.
Prins said only 2 percent of fires in the park developed into major fires, like the Muizenberg one - 95 percent were classified as initial attack fires and were put out within three hours, while 3 percent were extended attack fires which usually took 12 to 24 hours to contain.
The aerial costs followed about 200 hours of flying time.
He said fires were unpredictable and plans to fight them often had to change.
On the Monday morning, when the fire jumped Ou Kaapseweg, the wind had been howling up to 100km/h.
But the whole operation compared with the January 2000 fires had gone a lot more smoothly.
And firefighting company Rosenbauer had donated a pump worth R120 000, which was a mobile unit that could be mounted on an offroad vehicle to help fight fires in inaccessible places.