Man dies after Cape Town inferno

Man dies after Cape Town inferno

19 March 2009

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South Africa —

The blaze which ripped across Cape Town late on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning has claimed the life of one person, a man who suffered third-degree burns and died in Groote Schuur Hospital on Wednesday afternoon as a result of his injuries.

Firefighters are set to remain “on high alert” for at least the next two days and will be posted on the slopes of Devil’s Peak and around Rhodes Memorial to ensure that the fire, which saw City Bowl residents fleeing their homes early on Wednesday morning, does not flare up again, says Table Mountain National Park’s fire and technical services manager Philip Prins.

There’s still no word on what caused the fire, which burnt out an estimated 510 ha of TMNP land after breaking out near Rhodes Memorial on Tuesday night and spreading rapidly across the slopes to Devil’s Peak.

The man who suffered the fatal injuries, who was believed by authorities to be homeless and who the provincial health department has declined to name, died at about 2.30pm on Wednesday.

A woman, identified in some media reports as the man’s wife or partner, was in “an unstable condition” at the Tygerberg Hospital’s burn unit late yesterday, according to the hospital’s spokeswoman Laticia Pienaar.

Five fire-fighters suffered minor injuries, including a sprained ankle, sprained knee and a fractured finger.

Some schools in the City Bowl area were closed for the day, and road closures along De Waal Drive saw traffic backed up in some parts of the city.

Table Mountain’s cableway was closed for business yesterday morning, but was reopened around noon when the fire was deemed to be “largely under control”.

Earlier in the day, Sapa reported that 60 people had been evacuated from their homes in suburbs immediately below the mountain during the night, but had since been told they could return to their homes.

No property was damaged, and at first light, four helicopters began flying water bombing missions on the fire.

Botanist Tony Rebelo, of the South African National Biodiversity Institute, said the fire had come “a bit late in the fire season, but under ideal conditions for a natural fire”.

“The veld was old enough to burn the Renosterveld which should be burned every five years, and the fynbos which was well over nine years old,” Rebelo said. “Some areas of Devil’s Peak were already dying as the veld was too old – this results in the locale extinction of some proteas, brunias and other plants with canopy stored seed banks.”

He said all the plants in the affected areas would be fine. “They will be far better off with the fire than if it did not happen, or if it had been burned during the wrong season, that is, when fires are not natural, such as winter.”

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