South Africa

Fires in South Africa

17 January 2005


Veld and Forest Fires are burning in the wildland-urban interface of the City of Cape Town since days. Hot and windy conditions are expected for the coming days.

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15 January 2005

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Residents claim abandoned stove caused blaze
Cape Town was under siege on Saturday as fires destroyed thousands of homes, killing a baby and devastating the Peninsula’s precious flora.
From Muizenberg and Lakeside to Hout Bay, from Signal Hill to the Joe Slovo informal settlement in Langa and Swartklip near Mitchells Plain, fires big and small raged across the parched, wind-swept Peninsula.
Thousands of shacks were destroyed in Joe Slovo, where a two-month-old baby died of smoke inhalation and 17 people suffered various injuries.

Scorched: Residents of the Joe Slovo informal settlement in the Western Cape
survey the remains of their homes after this weekend’s monster blaze. Photo: Rogan Ward, Cape Times

Working on Fire’s twin-rotor Kamov firefighting helicopter releases a load during the massive blaze on Muizenburg mountain. Photo: Michael Pinyana, Cape Argus A waterpipe in the main road burst around noon rendering a large section of Hout Bay waterless Arson is suspected to be the cause of a huge fire which destroyed young fynbos on the Karbonkelberg in Hout Bay. The fires in Joe Slovo and Hout Bay started on Saturday morning, while embers from earlier fires on Signal Hill and the mountains above Boyes Drive in the south Peninsula flared up again, fanned by a strong Southeaster.

The fire in Joe Slovo destroyed between 1 500 and 2 500 homes. Those injured or suffering smoke inhalation included a fire fighter. About 15 000 people are homeless. Hostels in Zones, 18, 24, 25 and 26 were badly damaged.

About 55 fire fighters could not cope with the blaze and more were called in. There was also a large municipal, city police and SA Police Service contingent on the scene.
Scores of motorists, including traffic officers, stopped their cars on Vanguard Drive, watching helplessly as the horror unfolded. Two helicopters with water buckets, which arrived soon after noon, dropped water on to the flames, but this appeared to be ineffective in the strong wind.
Police spokesperson Billy Jones said the fire started at about 10.20am and firefighters had it under control by about 3.30pm. Injured residents were treated by ambulance personnel at the scene. Others were sent to hospital. Jones said the cause of the fire was still unknown, but police were investigating.
In the chaos, a man was arrested for throwing stones at firefighters and scores of children were separated from their parents. Residents said they had lost their houses and all their possessions, and called on the government to build more houses.
Some residents said the fire was started by a man who had been cooking food at his house. Lucas Witbooi, a resident who lost everything in the fire, said, “He left his house while he was cooking food on a stove.
“He was present when his house was burning, but left the area when the fire spread to other houses. Western Cape Housing and Local Government MEC, Marius Fransman, has called on Capetonians to donate food and clothes to the fire victims.
Fransman’s spokesperson, Eric Ntabazalila, said officials from the provincial departments of social services, housing and local government, the City of Cape Town, police and community leaders had convened an urgent meeting to discuss the disaster and the way forward.
Ntabazalila said the fire victims had been accommodated at schools and that food would be provided. Lost children had been accommodated at the Nomzamo Place of Safety.
In the latest mountain fire – on the slopes of the Karbonkelberg in Hout Bay – firefighters battled flames and thick smoke from midday on Saturday.
Firefighters strongly suspect arson may be the cause, because the fire began about 20m from an access road on the mountain, just after noon.
Four helicopters flew in and out of the smoke, “bombing” the flames with buckets of water. Fiona Kalk of Table Mountain National Park said just before nightfall that the blaze had been contained.
“One of our concerns is that we conducted a controlled burn in the area about a year and a half ago. We fear the fynbos was relatively young and may not have produced seeds yet.”
In the Imizamo Yethu (Mandela Park) settlement in Hout Bay a bush fire destroyed three shacks. In an ironic twist, lower down the mountain in Hout Bay, a waterpipe in the main road burst around noon rendering a large section of Hout Bay waterless for several hours, further hampering the work of firefighters.
Franz Schlaphoff, disaster management co-ordinator for the fires, said the smouldering areas above Boyes Drive had burst into flames again early on Saturday, fuelled by strong winds. By late on Saturday, the fire appeared to have died down.
Fires also started on Signal Hill, but were put out early in the afternoon.
The strong Southeaster blowing across the city played a big role in fanning the fires, Schlaphoff said. He expected the battle to continue throughout the night and into the morning with the forecast of stronger winds.
All fire services around the city have been deployed and seven helicopters are being used to water bomb the affected areas.

  • This article was originally published on page 3 of The Sunday Tribune on January 16, 2005

More News fom the Media and Press Clipings:

First time a helicopter (WoF) is used to fight a shack fire

For background information on theFire Situation in Africa see:


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