Children linked to two wildfires

Children linked to two wildfires

5 June 2009

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South Africa — Youths smoking a hookah pipe at Jonkershoek and children chasing ants out of a log in their hideout in Welcome Glen Valley above Glencairn have been linked to two wildfires that swept across large tracts of veld earlier this year.

A probe by forensic scientist David Klatzow has found that while some fires were started accidentally, arson could not be ruled out in others.

He would not reveal the number of suspects he had identified, saying it was up to the police to investigate further and arrest the culprits.

Klatzow said the fire-starting devices had not been sophisticated, and it would have taken only “cigarettes and matches” to light them. At least one fire-starting device has apparently been deliberately planted in the Southern Peninsula for investigators to find. He said this was disturbing.

The city’s safety and security officials are to meet Klatzow today to discuss his report.

Mayor Dan Plato said he expected officials to discuss filling “gaps” in firefighting operations identified in the probe. Co-operative government was needed, he said.

Klatzow was hired by former mayor Helen Zille, at a cost of R350 000 to the city, to identify the causes of the fires in the Helderberg, South Peninsula and Table Mountain National Park.

This was after Zille, who had been handed an incendiary device, said there was reason to suspect arson.

Klatzow found that:

  • The Helderberg blaze had been sparked by the fire that had started accidentally in Jonkershoek in Stellenbosch.
  • Fire-starting and delayed timing devices were the cause of a cluster of fires in the areas of Red Hill, Ou Kaapseweg and Cape Point Nature Reserve in the Southern Peninsula.
  • The Table Mountain fire was probably started by people, although there was no conclusive evidence. This blaze started in the grounds of UCT and killed two homeless people.

    He blamed the burning embers of a hookah pipe, discarded in fynbos near the edge of the river at Jonkershoek, for starting the blaze that spread as far as the Helderberg.

    Children using fire to drive ants out of a log in their hideout in the Welcome Glen Valley started a fire at 3am. Dockets had been opened and statements given to the Simon’s Town police about this incident.

    Of the UCT fire, Klatzow said that from the location of its source and weather conditions at the time, it appeared highly unlikely that this fire had started accidentally.

    Reaching the source of the blaze had required him to climb through a hole in a fence past the dam, and walk at least 25m “off the beaten track”. A cigarette would have been sufficient to start this blaze.

    The fire drove people from their homes in Devil’s Peak and the two people who died were far from the source of the fire, Klatzow said.

    Richard Bosman, the city’s executive director for safety and security, said R300 000 had been spent on additional staff to fight the Helderberg fires, which burned for more than a month, and it had cost a further R2 million to hire a helicopter in January.

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