Forest and Bushfires in the Western Cape Region / South Africa; 21 January 2000

Forest and Bushfires in the Western CapeRegion/South Africa

21 January 2000

The GFMC provides today, Friday morning, three reports on the forest and bushfire incident in the Western Cape Region/South Africa:

  • latest media news

  • report (20 January 2000, 13:00 GMT) provided by the GFMC correspondents Michael Calvin & Deborah Wettlaufer, Hout Bay, South Africa, and

  • photographic impressions.

News from the Media

After four days of bush fires that destroyed thousands of hectares of scrubland and several houses, the situation came more and more under control. Fires broke out in 120 different locations on Sunday afternoon. Meanwhile, two fires have flared up again on the Cape Peninsula mountains, but the situation was well under control. Parts of vineyards on the Cape’s wine route were also damaged by the fires, with one area alone estimated to have lost 20 percent of its production.

The still smoking ground was covered in a thick carpet of grey ash surrounding burned and blackened tree trunks. However, it is too early to be confident that the danger is over, with temperatures forecast to hit 40 degrees Celsius on Friday, no rain and a light southeasterly wind in prospect that could still fan the smouldering embers to burn once again.

At the peak of the four-day fire, air force helicopters flew more than 700 missions and dropped nearly two million litres of water on the raging fires. Three helicopters, private as well as Air Force machines, were still water-bombing the flames. One group of firefighters had to be rescued by helicopter after becoming surrounded by the still smouldering bush fires.

The fire region was declared to a disaster area to free up funds and start relief supplies flowing in. Insurance companies anticipate paying out more than 3 billion South African Rand in claims following this week’s inferno in the Cape Peninsula.

Yesterdays Afternoon Report: Western Cape Fires 20 January 2000, 13:00 GMT

So far, today has been relatively a good day for firefighters. The weather is still very hot, but there is a slight onshore flow in Hout Bay, and most of the fires in the Cape Town area have not been very active.

Yesterday was another hard day for firefighters in the area of Constantia and Simon’s Town on the southern Cape peninsula. The 41°C high temperature broke a 34-year-old record. Five houses burnt as the fire burned down from Constantia Nek to the edge of the historic Groot Constantia vineyard. In Simon’s Town to the south, over 20 houses were destroyed or damaged as the fire spread right through town. Not far away, tour buses carrying 240 people back from Cape Point on the tip of the peninsula were temporarily trapped when the only road was closed by the fire. A fire near De Gama Park, north of Simon’s Town, caused damage to eight homes. An immense fire about 120 km north of Cape Town has burned nearly 6000 ha in the West Coast National Park. The road from Cape Town to Langebaan near the park has been closed. The area north of Stellenbosch has sustained substantial damage to its vineyards. At least 20% of the red wine grapes have been damaged. The Western Cape provincial government declared the Cape Town metropolitan area a disaster area, and Pretoria sent additional helicopters to aid in the firefighting effort. To date, helicopters have dropped 2.6 million litres of water.

Today a large fire was reported near the town of Robertson, about 300 km to the east of Cape Town. The weather forecast calls for a dry frontal system to move through the cape on Friday, which could cause additional problems if the winds are strong. Once the front passes a strong south easterly wind is predicted to blow on Sunday. The situation remains serious and appears to be worsening in other areas in the Western Cape.

By Michael Calvin & Deborah Wettlaufer
Hout Bay, South Africa

Photographic Coverage

On 20 January the GFMC received three photographs from GFMC correspondents Michael Calvin and Deborah Wettlaufer, Hout Bay, South Africa.The upper two photographs show Oryx helicopters dropping water in the vicinty of Constantia Nek. The lower photograph shows the smoke column in Constantia Nek at 12:00 (19 January). The strong convective activity of the column indicates the high intensity of the fire.

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For visiting earlier reports please click on the daily updates of 18, 19 and 20 January.

Additional information from the GFMC fire information system:
Visit the South Africa photo archive of GFMC.
For more information on recent developments in fire management in South Africa visit the last issue of IFFN:

Wildfire in the Southern African Development Community Conference as part of the Wood for Africa Conference 1999

The National Veld and Forest Fire Act: Act 101 of 1998 of the Republic of South Africa

Integrated Fire Management in Southern Africa

Proposed Co-operative Fire Management in the SADC Countries of Southern Africa

Reduction in Fire Incidents in East Caprivi

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