Cape Town, South Africa — A smouldering cigarette is believed to have causedthe wildfire on Table Mountain that laid siege to several suburbs and cost thelife of a British tourist out hiking.
Another British tourist, a 36-year-old man, was in police custody last night,suspected of being responsible for starting the fire, said police spokesmanElliot Sinyangana.
He is to appear in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court this morning to face acharge of culpable homicide in connection with the death of a woman of 65.Police have not yet named her because her next of kin had yet to be informedlast night.
He is also to be charged with arson, Sinyangana said.
“The woman did not burn to death, and a postmortem will determine how shedied, but we suspect it was of smoke inhalation,” he said.
Piet Smith, chief of fire and rescue services in Cape Town, said the woman hadbeen walking on the mountain with her daughter and was near the lower cablestation at the time the fire broke out.
Fiona Kalk, communications manager of the Table Mountain National Park, said thestart of the fire was witnessed by a Hoeriekwaggo trail guide, Donovan Lyimo:”He was at the bottom of Platteklip Gorge on Tafelberg Road when he saw aman flick a cigarette from a car window and saw the fire start. Although Donovantried to put out the fire there was no way he could, because it spread veryrapidly.
“The man in the car also saw the fire starting but drove off. Donovan thenradioed the registration number of the car to another guide, Noluthando Mathe,who was further down the road. She jumped in front of the car, stopped it andradioed rangers, who arrested the man.”
Late last night the fire that began on Tafelberg Road continued to burn out ofcontrol on several flanks: Camps Bay, Lion’s Head, the Deer Park area andPlatteklip Gorge, where it burned up the gorge and was nearing the table top.Kalk said a strong south-easterly was predicted to blow for the rest of thenight and was predicted to turn strong southerly today in high temperatures of30ûC.
“Firefighters from the Table Mountain National Park, Working on Fire andthe City will continue to work throughout the night to bring the fire undercontrol. The SANDF has helicopters on standby to assist at first light,”said Kalk.
“TMNP thanks all the firefighting crews, the rescue teams – Metro Rescueand Wilderness Search and Rescue – and the citizens of Cape Town who areassisting in fighting the fire for their bravery and dedication.
“TMNP also asks the public to exercise caution during fire season, not tothrow cigarette butts out their windows and not to light braais and fires onwindy days.”
Phillip Prins, Table Mountain National Park fire manger, said a number of housesin the Oranjezicht area were threatened as a strong south-easterly wind drovethe flames down the slopes. A number of residents were evacuated from theirhomes and two cars were destroyed.
Brenda van Riet, evacuated from her Rugby Road house in Oranjezicht, said herthatch lapa had caught fire. “My husband and my sons were there to put it out. We were told to evacuatethe house. I took some possessions, but what do you take and what do you leave?”she said.
A couple hiking up Atlantic Crag were rescued by a Skymed Helicopter crew lastnight.
“We saw the fire when we were about three-quarters of the way on ourroute,” said Malcolm Gowans, who had been hiking with a friend, Anrei VonHase.
“It just became very hot and after we saw a lot of smoke we decided to calla friend, who alerted Metro Rescue.
“The pilot handled the situation very well, as there were strong winds. Weare very grateful to everyone concerned.”
The pilot, Iefan Blake, said: “Metro informed us about two hikers close tothe cableway, shortly after 8pm, and we went to pick them up.”
Meanwhile, firefighters battled to control the fire raging at the foot of Bain’sKloof. A firefighter said the fire near Wellington was “not contained”,but was flaring up and being driven by strong winds. A man who had been helpingto fight the fire was injured when he tried to move out of the way of one of theWorking on Fire (WoF) MI8 helicopters water bombing the blaze.
WoF’s Val Charlton said the man had hurt his back and was admitted to PaarlMedi-Clinic.
Deon Rossouw of the Limietberg Nature Reserve, said the fire was because of”human negligence” and a complaint would be lodged with police.
A number of factories on the Foreshore were damaged in another fire that startedat the back of Duncan Dock and was soon brought under control. A bush fire alsoblazed briefly in Jupiter Road, Ocean View, near Simon’s Town.
Last night members of the public brought food to the Newlands Forestry Station,where volunteers were hard at work feeding hungry and tired firefighters.
Patricia Scott, a dispatcher for WoF, Newlands, said: “A number of peoplehave been dropping off food parcels since early in the evening, from coldrinks,water and juice to sandwiches, fresh fruit and biscuits.
We wish to thank the public for the support they’ve shown. Volunteers from WoFand other rescue services worked through the night to make up food parcels tosend to the firefighters on scene.
“People should continue to bring goods in on Friday morning as we areexpecting to feed about 100 firemen,” she said.
“The weather predictions aren’t good for those struggling with the flames.It’s going to be a long haul and they need to eat to keep their energieshigh.”