* This article has been updated.
Cape Town – The huge fires which began on the Ocean View side of the Southern Peninsula continued to rage in the Simon’s Town, Glencairn and Red Hill areas on Wednesday afternoon.
In scenes that resemble Hollywood disaster movies, rescue teams battle to contain the flames, as they are being fanned by a strong wind, moving closer and closer to homes and residences.
Fire engines, ambulances, Disaster Risk Management vehicles, police and traffic cars send pulses of red and blue flashing lights through the dense smoke as they move in and out of the danger areas, all assisting in attempting to bring the situation under control
As we drove through the Welcome Glen section of Glencairn, at around 4h30 concerned residents were either helping to fight the flames, water their property boundaries or even pack precious belongings and leave the area.
Military and civilian helicopters ran a gauntlet over the trees and through the valleys, dropping skips filled with water, in an attempt to kill the huge walls of flames that were constantly erupting, as the fire found thick copses of vegetation or large trees off which to feed.
The speed at which the fire was moving nearly caught a local resident, who was using a branch to try to fight the flames and was unaware that the fire was surrounding him. Quick response by the fire crews alerted him in time.
The fires had already jumped the road from the open bush to the residential side and frantic efforts were being made to keep properties from catching fire.
The hillside between Dido Valley and Red Hill resembles a strange alien landscape, of smouldering trees and barren grey earth. SPCA vehicles are patrolling the area, looking for either frightened domestic pets or animals from the mountains, trying to escape the blaze.
In Simon’s Town, the fire would seem to be burning on two separate fronts: one in the Red Hill vicinity and another above the centre of the town, just above Runciman Drive. The flames seemed to be extremely close to many homes and many residents were seen assisting the fire crews wherever possible. Again we were aware of some residents loading cars with possessions and moving out of the area.
Even if the fires are contained fairly soon, teams will have to remain in the region overnight to monitor the scene and respond to any new flare-ups but, at the moment, containment would still seem to be a distance away.
8:30 pm – Fish Hoek Civic Centre. A collection of emergency vehicles are congregated around one of the units that are being used as a command post. Men and women communicate on mobile phones and walkie-talkies. Vehicles arrive and vehicles leave, emergency lights flashing.
At the adjacent fire station, Disaster Risk Management staff, fire-fighters and volunteers, busy themselves making food parcels and organising water and iced drinks donated by the public. Once assembled the packs will be distributed to the teams working across a wide belt, from the Black Hill overpass in Glencairn, to the mountain slopes above Simon’s Town.
There is a sense of positive achievement amongst all of those you get to talk to. The fires are far from over but, for the major part, are under control. Major hot-spots still are causing concern: at the Gelncairn overpass, Red Hill and above Runciman Drive in Simon’s Town, so this is where the biggest concentration of equipment and personnel are being stationed.
As I walked past some the houses that are closest to the flames in Simon’s Town, people were bringing refreshments from their homes for the fire-fighters and constantly praising the incredible job that is being done. I chat to a foreign couple, who moved to the area at the height of the severe fires of 2000. They say they are still a little concerned but have faith in the “amazing men and women who are doing everything to kill the fires and save their homes”. One gent emerges from his home wearing a Father Christmas hat! He feels a bit of light relief is in order.
And so the night continues.
From the reports I received, the drop in the wind and cooler temperatures are helping and the mood is generally positive, amongst both the officials and the residents.
Yes, it is going to be a long night for everyone.
Yes, things could take a turn for the worse.
But that is only a maybe.
It has been another long day for the emergency workers of the Peninsula and the Winelands , both the official personnel and the volunteers.
To them all we, the people of Cape Town and environs , owe another huge debt of gratitude and must ensure that, when called upon, we will do whatever we can to lighten their load.