‘It’s a tragedy’

‘It’s a tragedy’

5 February 2009

published by www.news24.com

South Africa — “A tragedy.”

These were the words of students and other astounded bystanders as they watched flames of several metres high rush towards Stellenbosch University’s Sport Sciences centre.

The fire, which started in the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, was fanned by a strong Southeaster that rapidly drove it in the direction of the Coetzenburg sports grounds.

By 19:00 the Sports Sciences centre had to be evacuated and an hour later part of the roof went up in flames.

Students were trying to protect their faces from the smoke and soot with scarves and T-shirts.

Some described the fire as tragic and horrific.

Leon Morta, head of Stellenbosch Municipality’s fire brigade, said by 21:00 the entire sports complex was in danger – including the Danie Craven stadium and the DF Malan building.

Firefighter sent into gym

“Firefighters were sent into the gym to try and extinguish the fire that had started in the roof.”

By 21:30 it had been brought under control.

Morta said the traffic department had sealed off the entrances to the sports grounds.

No vehicles were allowed through, but the many students who had arrived on foot, created a problem.

By 22:30 Morta announced that the worst was over and that the fire was moving in the direction of Brandwacht.

No houses were in danger at that stage.

Willem Buys, 21, a BAcc Honours student and resident of Huis Marais, said initially students were chased away from Coetzenburg.

Four fires in Stellenbosch

By 20:00 about 15 of the men living in his residence started putting out the flames in the veld with branches.

Later they also helped to put out the fire in the Sport Sciences.

The hockey Test between South Africa and Germany, that would have taken place at Coetzenburg on Wednesday night, had provisionally been postponed to Thursday evening.

The fire was one of four raging in and around Stellenbosch on Wednesday afternoon, swathing the town in a thick cloud of smoke.

The other fires – in the Cloetesville residential area, at Klapmuts and near the Drakenstein lion park next to the R101 – were all brought under control before dark.

The one at the lion park was extinguished before the animals had to be evacuated, said Danie Vermeulen, senior fire officer at the Drakenstein Municipality.

Firefighters of, among others, CapeNature, Working on Fire, Stellenbosch and Drakenstein municipalities, Cape Winelands District Municipality and Groenland forestry services in Grabouw were deployed.

A helicopter was also used to drop water on Wednesday afternoon.

Dian Dreyer, acting head of CapeNature in the Boland, said the cause of the fire in Jonkershoek was not yet known.

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