Runaway fire brought under control

Runawayfire brought under control

3 March 2006

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South Africa — The Helderberg Nature Reserve was in need of acontrolled burn under supervision and not a runaway fire which had the potentialof wreaking great destruction. 

This was the opinion of conservationists after fire fighting teams fought longhours from Friday to Monday contain a fire raging in the reserve.

Fortunately the absence of wind to fan the flames and the rain on Sunday nighthelped to contain the fire. 

But for many – especially residents in Hillcrest Road adjacent to the reserve -the fire was a walk-up call. 

It alerted these residents anew to the danger of a row of giant pines borderingtheir road.

It is suspected that the fire in the reserve was sparked on Friday morning by aburning cigarette butt discarded near one of the footpaths. 

Gerald Wright, chairman of the Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve, said hespotted the fire from Vergelegen at about 10:30 and alerted the reserve. 

He doesn’t know if he was the first to call.

Fire trucks from the City’s fire department in the Helderberg rushed to thescene and were joined by teams from Cape Nature, Working on Fire and SteenbrasDam workers as the fire spread rapidly .

The fire swept straight up the western side of the Helderberg mountain and alongdry verges of the Porcupine Buttress.

Nature Conservationist Paul Koker, who runs the Reserve and was away on leave atthe time, immediately rushed back to attend to the crisis.

Two water-carrying helicopters and three fixed winged planes assisted thefirefighters from the sky.

The ground teams worked long into the night to contain the blaze as members ofthe Friends and other members of the public also rallied with a variety of foodsupplies for the tiring fire fighters.

By late afternoon the fire was still burning high up on the mountainside and hadswept over the top.

The flames flared up from time to time and firefighters had to keep a close eyeon the situation for the whole weekend and again on Monday, to guard against anyhot spots that flared up unexpectedly.

Although the wind was quite strong on Monday, no serious problems wereexperienced.

The fire brigade brought up a unit and they kept the problems to a minimum, MrKoker said on Tuesday.

Many animals died

He stated that a number of snakes and smaller animals had died in thefire. 

Mr Koker thanked the fire services for their quick response and co-operation.

Mr Wright said on Tuesday that Vergelegen and High Riding, who are both membersof the Helderberg’s Fire Protection Association that was formed two years ago,also assisted in the fire-fighting by making their fire-fighting equipmentavailable.

He said a matter of immediate concern was to look at anti-corrosion measures andputting up gabians – wire baskets filled with rocks – to support the banks thatwere eroded by the fire. 

Farmers on the Stellenbosch side of the Helderberg, allegedly at their own cost,had to get a helicopter to fight the fire on their farms on Saturday, afterreceiving no help from the Stellenbosch and Winelands District Council. 

The cost to them is said to exceed R200 000.


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