Dozens of homes and other structures were gutted when a fire tore through Wupperthal. Photo: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town - Life in the Cederberg town of Wupperthal is slowly returning to normal and the school in the area is expected to open on Monday.

The town is recovering from a fire which broke out on December 30 and left 53 families homeless and destroyed almost 60 homes. Between eight and 11 “critical infrastructure” buildings were also destroyed in the blaze including the school hostel which burnt down.

Disaster manager for the West Coast Municipality Franquin Petersen said the Joint Operation Command (JOC) had been making steady progress with relief efforts. Various government departments including Local Government and Social Development, the Cederberg Municipality, Western Cape Disaster Management Centre, NGOs and many others have joined forces to assist the affected families and to rebuild the Moravian Mission Station.

Petersen said it had been estimated that fewer than 200 people were affected by the blaze and, while some had returned home, others were still staying with family.

“For some people, it’s just too sad to see their homes right now. We have social workers who are providing counselling for the affected families,” said Petersen.

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He said a sensitive issue for many residents would be the demolition of the burnt homes, which had great sentimental value for the residents.

“We are pleased that the community has now agreed to the demolition of the compromised structures which could cause a danger to residents.”

A key focus for the JOC is the removal of the asbestos roofs in many of the homes.

“We are in the process of finalising the tender process now for the asbestos removal. This is an urgent matter for us,” said Petersen.

He praised all those involved in the relief efforts in Wupperthal.

Petersen also appealed to parents to communicate with the principal about any issues that may arise when the school opens on Monday.

Police are still investigating the cause of the fire.

Dudley Coetzee, the mayor of Overstrand, said the fires in the area were under control.

Hermanus, Gansbaai, Betty’s Bay, Pringle Bay, Kogel Bay, Franskraal, the Hemel Op Aarde Valley and farms in the area have been burning since New Year’s Eve.

It’s believed the blaze was started by a 34-year-old man who allegedly set off a flare in Betty’s Bay on New Year’s Eve.

Coetzee said while there were still hotspots in Betty’s Bay and Gansbaai the situation was under control.

NPA spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila said the man allegedly responsible for the Betty’s Bay blaze will apply for bail on Wednesday. According to Coetzee, police are still on the hunt for the suspects who started the fire in Franskraal.

Weekend Argus