Cape fires may have been started by arsonists

Cape fires may have been started by arsonists

19 February 2009

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South Africa — A search has begun for arson suspects who are thought to have ignited the Western Cape’s latest runaway blaze at two of the country’s premier wine estates.

The latest fire began just days after exhausted firefighters finally managed to extinguish a blaze which began in Jonkershoek and burned down to Lourensford Estate in Somerset West for a full 12 days.

Wednesday’s fire was fuelled by harsh north-westerly winds, which spread the flames quickly over a vast area on the farm.

Barry Humby, the farm’s production manager and head of the region’s fire protection association, told the Cape Argus on Wednesday night that he and three other officials had witnessed the fires starting and were convinced that it had been the work of arsonists.

Waterbombing operations began immediately, but the three helicopters had been forced to head home as darkness set in.

Humby and his team worked through the night to prevent the fires from destroying further pine plantations, vineyards and orchards.

Across the valley, a second fire had also started at Vergelegen estate and was still raging at the foot of the Hottentots Hollands mountains at 4am. Rain began to fall just before dawn.

Commenting on cases of arson, the City of Cape Town’s fire chief Ian Schnettler said efforts were being made to have forensic analysis conducted at sites where fires had started.

Philip Prins, the Table Mountain National Park’s fire manager, said: “There is a suspicion of arson in a number of fires.”

He said a team, made up of officers from the park, volunteer firefighting services, the city and police had been established to investigate the fires’ origins.

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