Fires in the Western Cape of South Africa 04 June 2004
Nervous night for Glencairn residents
The Glencairn Valley was tense throughout the night as residents kept a vigil against the fire that threatened houses and all before it as it swept through their area to Simon’s Town.
Although authorities earlier reported they had the blaze under control, residents said that late last night it had flared up again, fanned by strong winds.
With the first rains and storms of winter expected this weekend mudslides could plague the area, as they did after a major fire in 1999.
Resident Kaele Lombard said: “I have never seen such big flames. I thank all the firefighters doing their best to put the fire out.”
Another resident, Tineke Lombard, said: “They had guys from all over, trying to put the flames out pretty quickly. My only concern is if winds pick up in the night, then we will have a major problem.”
Fire in the sky: Residents watch as towering flames rear up alongside their Glencairn home yesterday afternoon. Authorities earlier reported they had the blaze under control, but residents said late last night it had flared again. Photo:Andrew Ingram
Peter Eksteen, divisional officer at the South Peninsula fire station, said despite a mammoth effort by firefighters, the blaze could not be put out entirely by late last night.
“We are hoping to extinguish the fire by early tomorrow (today). We have been using about nine water jets, which pump out about 1 500 litres of water a minute to contain the fire. But the weather has not been in our favour,” he said.
“The wind played a big role in worsening the fire by fanning the flames, and as its direction changed, the fire spread all over the place, continually forcing firefighters to move their resources from one side of the fire to the other. The recent dry conditions also aided the fire, making it easy for the flames to jump on to dry patches of grass.
“There was a threat to residential areas and we are hoping that the fire does not worsen.”
Firefighters from the municipality, Table Mountain National Park and the navy, assisted by air force helicopters, fought a fierce battle as huge flames edged close to homes.
But there had been no need to implement an emergency evacuation by the time of going to press last night. No one had been injured. Horses at stables were moved, and the Tears Animal Rescue Society rescued more than 30 cats and dogs.
About 20 fire engines were sent to the scene. Two helicopters dropped water bombs over the area – that extended for about 9km2 – as strong winds fuelled the flames that raced through dry wooded parts of the mountain.
Control vehicles from disaster management and rescue services were also called in.
A thick pall of smoke all but blocked out the sun, and traffic was backed up for kilometres.
Eksteen said the cause of the fire had not been determined but a safety team would be dispatched after the fire was extinguished to investigate the area.
“Our main priority is to extinguish the flames. We will look at what caused it after we have achieved that.”
The Table Mountain National Park stated yesterday the fire had started on private land, spread to the park and then jumped the Glencairn Express Way into the valley.
Dense alien infestation on private land in the valley also made the fire difficult to contain, it said.
Glencairn resident and writer Mike Nicol said when he noticed the severity of the fire yesterday, he packed up all his essentials in case he needed to evacuate his premises.
Nicol said his house was about 20m from the flames and sparks had ignited his lawn earlier in the day.
“But we managed to put those out with a garden hose and some wet towels,” he said.
Many residents blame the dry, alien vegetation as a major cause for concern and have complained that the authorities had done nothing to clear up the dead wood.
The Simon’s Town Civic Association’s Fran Freeman said: “With the last fire in 1999, there was heavy rain soon afterwards, which resulted in mudslides. It looks like it could happen this weekend again, as rain is likely. But we’ve been through this as a community before and we pull together amazingly in these situations,” she said.