Firefighters pushed to limit on scorching day

Firefighters pushed to limit on scorching day

25 January 2007

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Cape Town, South Africa — Raging fires and searing heat saw firefighting services stretched to capacity as they battled to extinguish more than 20 fires across the Peninsula and Boland on Wednesday.

As temperatures soared into the high 30°Cs and 40°Cs and winds fanned flames, there was not a single fire engine left at any of Cape Town’s 28 fire stations, while exhausted firefighters were said to be “taking strain”.

Wine farmers in the Simonsberg district pitched in to help fight the fires. Late on Wednesday, the fires had not moved down to theirvineyards.

Paarl municipality reported that the temperature, measured at one of its substations, rose to 46°C.

Theo Lane, a station officer at the Cape Town Fire Command and Control Centre, said every firefighting vehicle that could be manned was in use.

“From Strand through to Paarl and Stellenbosch, all 31 fire engines and 17 bush and water tenders are out fighting fires.”

At 3.45pm, they were fighting 20 veld fires, Layne said.

The provincial co-ordinator for Working on Fire (WoF), Fransuliene Bosch, said crews were taking strain in the heat.

“The firefighters are starting to get tired. It’s just so hectic. The heat out there, combined with the wind and number of fires, is leading to firefighters feeling exhausted,” she said.

Bosch said if the extremely hot and windy conditions continued, firefighting crews on standby in Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga would be called in.

She said water-bombing helicopters had been kept busy throughout the day.

Philip Prins, fire manager for the Table Mountain National Park, said that had it not been for the helicopters, many fires would have raged out of control.

“We would have had a hectic situation on our hands,” he said.

“If it weren’t for the helicopters, we wouldn’t have been able to control the fires.”

Three water-bombing WoF helicopters battled to contain a fire in Constantia Nek. The helicopters were then diverted to a blaze on Signal Hill. This fire was brought under control within two hours.

Earlier, the three helicopters and more than seven fire engines struggled to contain a fire in Khayelitsha Site B. About 100 homes were destroyed, leaving more than 500 people homeless.

People trying to escape the heat crowded together in small patches of shade as they watched firefighters hosing down smoking and blackened piles of corrugated iron.

The city of Cape Town’s disaster management spokesperson, Johan Minnie, said those left homeless had been offered temporary accommodation in a Site C community hall.

He said no one had been reported injured.

The cause of the fire had yet to be determined.

The chief fire officer of the Cape Winelands District municipality, Danie Wilds, said firefighters were struggling to contain four fires.

“They are definitely suffering, but they’re coping,” he said.

“The firefighters are tired and it’s difficult for them to work in such heat, but it’s their job.”

Firefighters struggled to contain a large veld fire at Wemmershoek and three smaller vegetation fires in areas around Stellenbosch.

A raging runaway veld fire near the Drakenstein Correctional Centre, between Franschhoek and Paarl, broke out early on Wednesday and was contained by afternoon. Firefighters were monitoring the area for flare-ups.

They also fought blazes on the mountains in Bain’s Kloof and at Uniondale near George.

In the Overberg, firefighters monitored a veld fire that had broken out on Tuesday and was burning near Caledon.

Jeff Grier, of Villieria, said the high temperatures recorded on Wednesday usually occurred in the first and second week of February. “If this earlier heat is a trend of global warming, and it’s going to be as hot as this earlier in the summer, then it is going to create problems for the wine industry,” Grier said.

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