Devastating fire destroys historic town of Wupperthal, Cederberg

11 January 2019

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SOUTH AFRICA – A devastating fire tore through the historic town of Wupperthal in the Cederberg, tragically destroying most of the small tourist town which is nestled outside Clanwilliam, in the Cape West Coast District.  55 homes have been destroyed, as well as the community hall, the school hostel, a restaurant, shopping centre and the church minister’s parsonage. West Coast District Municipality Fire and Rescue Services, assisted by neighbouring municipalities, were together battling to bring the ‘inferno’ under control on Sunday night, 30 December 2018.  Chief fire officer for WCDM, Bertus Senekal, provided a report on the response to the fire.

Acting chief, Markus Lutz reported that the Westcoast District Municipality Fire and \rescue received the call at approximately 17h08 on .

Intial response included a 4×4 type 3 fire engine with a 3 000-llitre water tank, three staff and a platoon commander and a type 3 water tanker with a 5 000-litre water  tank capacity and two staff members from Clanwilliam.

The West Coast District Disaster Management Centre was activated at approximately 17h45, manned by the Head of Centre and the acting chief fire officer, Markus Lutz.

The extended response included two skid units with three staff members and a station commander from Vredendal, type 3 fire engine with three staff members from Piketberg, a type 3 fire engine from Moreesburg with three staff members as well as a type water tanker from    Malmesbury with two staff members.

Lutz reported that a 10 000-litre water tanker was also requested from Cederberg and another 10 000-litre water tanker from Matzikame, which was stood down.

Although aerial assistance was requested, after consulting with the  pilot the decision was taken that it was too late in the day and that  a reconnaissance would be flown at first light to determine further aerial resources if necessary.

The agencies involved included theWest Coast District Munici[ality (WCDM)  Fire Services, WCDM Disaster Management and  Cederberg Municipality.

Some challenges faced included the problem of limited communication ie there was no cellular phone coverage nor radio coverage and the location of Wupperthal meant a 1h05min response time from Clanwilliam on a dirt road.

Ambulance services were deployed in the area and emergency medical services were on standby through the night. Communication in the area was down. Apparently many of those affected were pensioners and in need of medication.

There are reports that the fire was the result of a bee-smoking at a residence and a thatched roof caught fire.  South African Police Services (SAPS) Clanwilliam, reported that the majority of Wupperthal has been burnt down, which will be a devastating blow to the town, its people and its tourism, as irreplaceable artefacts and buildings of great historic significance have gone up in flames.

There are unconfirmed reports of some victims suffering burns.

The City of Cape Town’s Wilfred Solomons said hundreds of people have been displaced. According to latest updates, at least 200 people are affected.

Wupperthal was established in the 1830s when two German missionaries settled among seven Khoikhoi families living in the valley. It has been a Moravian mission station since 1865, according to the town’s website.  The picturesque village was loved by tourists for its old thatched Church, a store and beautiful thatched-roofed cottages. The area is well known for its velskoen, roltabak (dried and rolled tobacco), dried fruit and beans and for its famous rooibos tea.

The town of Wupperthal is on lockdown as demolition crews move in following a devastating fire.  The Moravian Church of Southern Africa says that buildings that were damaged in last week’s fire will be demolished.

The church says that Heritage Western Cape issued a directive and has given authority to demolish the historical buildings and structures that pose a danger.

Disaster co-ordinator and spokesperson, Wilfred Solomons said, “53 of these historical buildings will be demolished, however, it will be a phased approach. They will commence first with the homes that have asbestosis, as a result of the environmental health concerns and once that is done, to commence with the demolition of the clay homes.”

Source: WCDM Fire Services, SA People and EWN

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