‘Be vigilant’ call as teams tackle Cape fires

‘Be vigilant’ call as teams tackle Cape fires

19 January 2009

published by www.capeargus.co.za

South Africa — Firefighters are being called out to as many as 90 blazes a day, with negligence the suspected cause of most and arson in a few cases, says City of Cape Town fire chief Ian Schnetler.

He warns that hot, windy conditions – which bring a serious risk of runaway fires – are expected to persist in the greater Cape Town and West Coast areas this week.

In the seven hours to 2pm yesterday, fire teams went out to a large veld fire and 15 smaller veld fires.

Firefighters were responding to up to 90 calls a day.

“We responded to 81 fire calls on January 5 and 92 on January 8 and not one appears to have occurred naturally,” Schnetler said.

“Although many of these fires were well managed and quickly extinguished, several had the potential to become dangerous.”

Schnetler said he was awaiting reports on the causes of the blazes, but it was suspected “one or two” had been started deliberately and the rest had arisen through negligence.

“We appeal to everyone to heed all fire warnings and minimise the use of open fires,” he said.

“We would like to emphasise that (arson) is a criminal offence that the courts will punish harshly.”

Charles Fezi, a senior communications officer at the Cape Town Fire Command and Control Centre, said smoke from a veld fire on Devil’s Peak had made it necessary to close De Waal Drive for about five hours on Sunday. A helicopter had helped two fire engines at the scene put out the fire.

It is not yet known how the fire broke out.

Firefighters had also been called out on Sunday to Signal Hill, where a blaze had been put out the day before, but the call turned out to be a false alarm, Fezi said.

The fire on Saturday broke out about 11am and was put out by helicopter. About seven-and-a-half hours later it flared up again, close to where it had first broken out, but the helicopter quickly put it out.

Wilfred Solomons-Johannes, spokesperson for the city’s disaster risk management centre, said 15 shacks were gutted in a blaze in the Wallacedene informal settlement early on Sunday. The call was received at 2.06am.

The fire left 36 people homeless, but no one was injured.

A team from the disaster risk management centre had given the group food, clothing and blankets, Solomons-Johannes said. They would be given materials to rebuild their homes today.

It was not yet known how the fire broke out.

Solomons-Johannes urged people in informal settlements to be extremely vigilant when using open flames and not to leave them unattended, not even briefly.

They should also not leave a candle or other flame burning when they went to sleep, he said.

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