‘Worst fire in 30 years’

Published Jan 29, 2013


Western Cape - Homes have been gutted and residents of two farms were evacuated on Monday night in the Franschhoek blaze that has been described as the worst to hit the area in at least 30 years.

Working on Fire’s Linton Rensburg said helicopters and water bombers had been out since first light on Tuesday morning.

“Five teams – comprising 25 crew members each – also arrived from the Eastern Cape and the Free State on Tuesday morning and were deployed. Another five teams are now on standby in other provinces, too.”

Reinforcements from Port Elizabeth’s fire department were due to arrive this afternoon.

In Franschhoek, residents, firefighters and volunteers battled a blaze throughout the night to keep flames away from homes.

About 6 200 hectares of veld have been burnt.

At Wemmershoek Dam, residents fought fires in their backyards until the early hours of Tuesday morning to save their houses.

“It was an amazing sight – the whole community just got together and helped.

“It was worrying, because all through the night trees came crashing down around us and some of the roads were blocked,” said Wemmershoek Dam resident Eugene Williams.

“Many of us haven’t slept a wink, and you’ll see people standing side by side with the firemen up the hill. I’ve lived here for 30 years.

“We get fires from time to time, but I have never experienced anything like this.”

The residents of two Franschhoek farms, Durr and Edenvale, were evacuated on Monday night, and two buildings were gutted.

On D’Le Arc Orleans, sprinklers were running around the clock to save fields of lucerne as flames were bearing down on the farm.

Police spokesman Captain FC van Wyk said there have been no reports of death or serious injury relating to the Franschhoek fires.

Provincial traffic chief Kenny Africa said the Huguenot Tunnel at Du Toit’s Kloof was still open on Tuesday morning, but warned of reduced visibility because of thick smoke on the road network between Franschhoek and Paarl.

At Val de Vie wine, polo and residential estate near Paarl, firefighters were working on the northern perimeter fence to keep flames from the property.

Marketing director Ryk Neethling said: “The fire jumped the R301 at around 1am this morning. But we cleared a piece of land a few weeks ago – to prevent the land from being able to be set alight – and that saved us. The wind was exceptionally strong, the flames around four storeys high, so if we had not cleared that land, we could have been in trouble.

“But the fire is under control and we are not under threat.”


With fires raging across the province and a spate of fires in the City of Cape Town over the past 24 hours, resources were thinly stretched, said Royston Harris, station commander for the Cape Winelands fire department.

Harris said the situation had reached code red status and the heat and windy conditions that spurred the fires on since Sunday were expected to continue today.

“We are expecting winds of 40 knots and temperatures around 37°C. This makes our job increasingly difficult,” said Harris.

The Cape Town fire department has been fighting fires in Atlantis, Mitchells Plain, Eerste River, Mfuleni and Gugulethu since yesterday.

In the Cederberg near Clanwilliam, a fire has been burning since last week. About 25 000ha have burnt outside Clanwilliam since a lightning strike sparked the blaze.

Liesl Brink, spokeswoman for CapeNature, whose volunteers are assisting fire departments across the province, said fires had also been reported around Tulbagh, Eden Valley and Uniondale.

“In addition to the ground resources, Working on Fire Western Cape has also deployed 10 helicopter water bombers, eight spotter planes and eight fixed-wing water bombers and 37 pilots to the Western Cape to assist with suppressing these veld fires,” said Shane Christian, Working on Fire’s general manager.

“Aerial firefighting resources have become a critical component of integrated fire management and they play a leading role in quickly suppressing fires in an initial aerial attack which consists of water bombing fires.”

Harris said firefighters would be dispatched to the upper reaches of the Wemmershoek mountains to battle the flames where they were most intense.

He said Paarl was not in immediate danger, but with an unfavourable wind direction, the flames are still moving in the direction of the N1. On the other side of the Huguenot tunnel, the fire is reportedly making its way down Du Toit’s Kloof.

Meanwhile, Sapa reported on Tuesday morning that the fire on the Cederberg mountain has been contained.


Cape Argus

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