Picture: Leon Lestrade. African News Agency (ANA)
Picture: Leon Lestrade. African News Agency (ANA)

The ‘hotshot’ teams that put out the Cape Town fires

By Kelly Jane Turner Time of article published Apr 21, 2021

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Cape Town - The devastating wildfire that tore across the side of Table Mountain in Cape Town this week is largely under control now thanks to the collective efforts of brave firefighters, volunteers and disaster management personnel.

Limakatso Khalianyane, a spokesperson for Working On Fire in the Western Cape, said the “hotshot” team that was dispatched to Newlands to fight the fire had played an integral role.

“Fighting fires excites them; they love the challenges that come with it. Over and above this, they love saving lives and protecting the environment.

“The most challenging factor was the constant change in wind direction which made it difficult for them to fight the fire from one direction – they had to keep on moving based on the direction of the fire,” he said.

The fire started at the Rhodes Memorial on Sunday and spread towards the Devil’s Peak Estate and Vredehoek area of the Cape Town City Bowl.

Katleho Success Mahlaba, who has been a firefighter with Working on Fire for seven years, was flown in from the Free State to battle the blaze.

Mahlaba, who is Based in Bethlehem, said the Cape Town fire was one of the biggest fires he had ever worked on.

Firefighter Katleho Success Mahlaba from Bethlehem in the Free State was dispatched to fight the fire that tore across the side of Table Mountain.

“It was an exciting feeling to save lives, but the challenge of fighting fires is always risky so we always make sure we follow all the protocols. We wake up early in the morning to fight the fire and we leave late at night,” he said.

City of Cape Town Fire and Rescue Services spokesperson Jermaine Carelse said one of the most impressive officers in the service has been Ashlyn Hearn, the station commander at Epping Fire Station.

Hearn, who has been in the service for almost 17 years, said he was glad that the fire was under control for the sake of the infrastructure and the vegetation, and especially for the safety of the people who live in the affected areas.

“When the fire initially started, we were among of the first there. I started getting concerned when the fire was at the restaurant at the Rhodes Memorial and we were facing it head on. When it suddenly jumped over the road towards UCT, I became very worried for my guys, for our safety,” he said.

In the heat of the moment, Hearn said there was a sense of responsibility that they had to protect people and the environment, but they also could not put themselves in harm’s way and find themselves in a situation that they could not come out of.

“For the newer guys it was a learning experience. For some it was the first time they had seen a fire of that magnitude. But even for people that have been in the service and have fought fires for 20 years, that fear never goes away and that sense of danger and the unpredictability of the fire.

“It’s human nature because a fire is so unpredictable and no matter how experienced you are the conditions can change rapidly.”

Hearn said that while it was great that everyone saw and acknowledged the firefighters at the forefront, it had been a collective effort to keep the fire under control.

“There are really good firemen out there and there is value in a united front. It was a great collective effort, from the Heartland volunteers, Working on Fire, even the police, the traffic officers, disaster management assisting with the evacuations, and ER24,” he said.

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