Police widen search for Overberg arsonist

Police widen search for Overberg arsonist

4 January 2010

published by www.capetimes.co.za


South Africa — Police are tracking an arsonist, who strikes soon after firefighters have doused flames, suspected to be behind blazes ravaging areas in the Overberg.

Police spokesperson Frederick van Wyk said police were investigating a case of arson, and hoped to make an arrest soon.

“We’ve heard about it and are looking into it urgently. We’re investigating the matter seriously,” Van Wyk said.

Overberg disaster manager Reinhard Geldenhuys said: “There’s definitely an arsonist. There’s no doubt about it. Whoever it is has been setting fires the last few weeks, especially this week. As soon as a crew manages to put one out, he lights another one.”

He said a fire had allegedly been started on Wednesday last week, straining firefighters who were already fatigued and stretched thin because of blazes in Pearly Beach and in the Buffelsjag area.

“We managed to put them out, but (the alleged arsonist) lights another one an hour later. This time it became really bad.”

Geldenhuys said: “(The person behind the fires) is learning new tricks too. He watches us and sees how we battle the fires; perfecting the way he does it.”

And while firefighters are busy trying to douse those flames, the South African Weather Service has warned that higher temperatures on Tuesday are expected to aid the spread of runaway fires.

The entire Groenlandberg Mountain has been engulfed in flames, threatening farms in the foothills of the mountain in the Elgin Valley and seriously injuring an internationally renowned winemaker.

Paul Cluver, a 68-year-old viticulturist and former neurosurgeon who is the founder of De Rust Wine Estate, sustained third degree burns to his hands, arms and shoulders and second degree burns to parts of his face.

On New Year’s Eve Cluver travelled up the mountain slope, hoping to douse flames.

“He walked into the veld and wanted to water the flames from the back, hoping to cut them off. They were blowing away from him,” Cluver’s wife, Songvei, said.

“He said the wind had turned all of a sudden. It must have been like an explosion, all that hot air in a vortex of sorts.”

She said he rolled so as not to ignite his clothes before boarding a bakkie and driving towards a family member, all while his skin swelled from the burns.

“He was fully conscious and we took him to our doctor who put a drip in him and gave him morphine. It was like something out of a horror movie.”

She said he was recovering in the Vergelegen Medi-Clinic in Somerset West, and could be home within a week.

“The hair in his ears and nostrils are completely burnt away, and his cheek is incredibly raw. He luckily has some mobility left in his fingers, but parts of his hands looked like tenderised steak.”

Ash and cracked earth could be seen in the area, while farm animals skulked over the burnt area.

Geldenhuys said most of the Groenlandberg Nature Reserve was destroyed by the fire.

“It’s an ecological disaster. This 15-year-old veld, and species that were practically extinct that were regrown in nurseries, have been completely gutted.”

He said firefighters expected the fire to be extinguished by late on Sunday evening.


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