Two separate investigations into mountain fire
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AS two separate investigations are under way to determine the cause, liability and financial impact of the Table Mountain fire, Environment, Forestry & Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy has warned that more resources were needed as climate change contributed to more wildfires.
The minister yesterday was taken on a helicopter tour of Table Mountain National Park assess the damage.
She said: “When you are up there you realise the seriousness; the damage looked like the surface of the moon. If it was not for the bravery of these firefighters, it would have been considerably worse. The investigation will deal with where responsibility lies, and where financial compensation lies.”
She thanked the brave 1 000 firefighters and the helicopter crews who flew for 60 hours and delivered 433 water drops on to the blaze.
“Our firefighters, many of whom you can see, have come off shift and there is still smoke on their uniforms.
“The fire started on Hospital Bend, and during the height of the fire, there were 1 000 firefighters, fighting this fire in shifts.
“In total, between 600 and 700 hectares of the park (Table Mountain National Park), has been damaged, as well as property at UCT and other historical sites such as The Mill and Rhodes Memorial.
“With a 1 000 firefighters on the line, only four were injured; those who were injured have recovered and are back in service.”
Creecy said they hoped the two independent investigations conducted by UCT and SANParks would shed light on the cause, liability and financial responsibility after 4 000 students were displaced but most of them have since returned to campus.
In the wake of the devastation, Creecy said the fire had left a psychological impact which had affected students and the Cape’s historical legacy.
“The investigations cannot deal with the human and psychological and some of the costs, documents that were lost in the fire. They won't bring back the feeling of security students had in their residences. They won't bring back the personal possessions that were lost.”
The tragedy, she warned, shed more light on the growing climate change crisis which contributed to wildfires and the need for resources.
“We are recording record temperatures in April, temperatures that are far higher than we saw a few decades ago ... these dry conditions make wildfires more of a possibility.
“In the circumstances of climate change, we need to look at our regulatory framework in terms of what kind of vegetation we will allow to grow in high-risk areas.”
She said the government now had the responsibility of fireproofing certain City buildings which would form part of the climate change strategy adaptation.
“We need to look at questions of how do we make our buildings more energy efficient, more water efficient, but also situations where there is risk of fire, to make buildings more fire resilient.”
Creecy said she was not in the position to comment on the fact that more than 500 firefighters could face dismissal.
Fire manager for Table Mountain National Park, Philip Prins, said: “SANparks has appointed a private investigator, that investigation will continue and we hope to have a report within two weeks’ time.”
UCT spokesperson Elijah Mohola said they were not able to comment on the cause of the fire until the investigation was completed.
This week, Tanzanian national Frederick Mhangazo appeared in the Cape Town Regional Court on a charge of arson related to the mountain fire.
His case has been postponed for bail information.