Houses, cars destroyed in Cape Town blaze
Several vehicles and homes were destroyed after a fire broke out on the slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town on Sunday afternoon, 15 March 2020. Jermaine Carelse, spokesperson for the City of Cape Town’s Fire and Rescue Services, said that they responded to reports of mountain slopes alight below Tafelberg Road at about 12h50. 19 fire fighting appliances with crews were immediately deployed to the scene, with seasonal fire fighters also in attendance. He added that there were also reports of four dwellings that had caught alight in Trek Road in the suburb of Gardens. The fire had jumped and was burning on the Signal Hill side. In an update later that afternoon, Carelse said the incident has been divided into five areas in order to be more manageable. A total of 30 fire fighting appliances, including six water tankers and over 230 fire fighters were still on scene at around 15h00. “Table Mountain National Parks (TMNP) and Working on Fire (WoF) are also assisting,” he added. A number of fire fighters were injured and taken to hospital. One fire fighting appliance was unfortunately lost in the blaze. Three choppers were water bombing the inaccessible areas but could not stay in the air for too long as the fire was being fanned by 60 to 70km/h wind gusting at 80km/h. By the time the fire was contained, on Monday, 16 March 2020, three residential structures had been damaged and at least 11 stationary vehicles destroyed.
The fire, in one of the wealthiest streets in Cape Town, forced residents to be evacuated. "Earlier, a decision was made to evacuate homes in Nettleton Road. The city has made available emergency shelter at the Clifton Community Hall," the City of Cape Town said in a statement.
By Monday morning, 16 March 2020, fire fighting operations continued along Table Mountain National Park. Table Mountain National Park’s Philip Prins said in a statement, “The unpredictable weather conditions that led to the rapid spread of the Tafelberg Road fire yesterday (15 March 2020), made it necessary for the fire management team of SANParks Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) to request emergency reinforcements. The fire that started along Tafelberg Road below the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway precinct, burnt approximately 60 hectares of vegetation thus far, which includes fynbos and old pine stands is largely contained at this stage. SANParks has appointed Enviro Wildfire Services to do an investigation into the cause and origin of the fire, which will be announced at a later stage.”
“Unfortunately, helicopters had to stand down because of the wind. They couldn't fly anymore; the wind was just too strong. Some of the national park buildings and infrastructure may have been damaged by the fire. We are waiting for a report,” Prins said. “We expect the head of the fire is going to burn itself out against last year's fire. In January 2019, there was a fire that started below Signal Hill road and went up to Lion’s Head. It looks like the head of this fire will burn out against that fire and won't spread towards Signal Hill itself.”
“As of this morning, TMNP dispatched three Huey helicopters and a fixed wing spotter plane to wet down actively burning areas. Crews working throughout the evening will be replaced with fresh crews later on today and in addition, 30 TMNP contracted fire fighters from NCC Wildfires, 60 WoF fire fighters as well as staff from the Cape Peninsula Fire Protection Association will be fighting the fire on the ground. This amounts to 100 fire fighters that will remain on scene through the day. Volunteers from the Volunteer Wildfire Services will be activated this evening to monitor the area and continue with mop up operations,” he said.
AFB Ysterplaat fire section helps stop Table Mountain blaze
Cape Town’s South African Air Force (SAAF) base at Ysterplaat put in extra effort at the weekend as fire hit Table Mountain with a team from the base’s fire section putting down more than 30 000 litres of water in a nine hour period. An SAAF statement said its fire fighters at Air Force Base (AFB) Ysterplaat were tasked to assist in fire fighting operations on the iconic mountain at the weekend on short notice. The assistance was provided in terms of Operation Chariot, an ongoing SA National Defence Force (SANDF) tasking to provide disaster relief and humanitarian assistance.
After midday on Sunday, 15 March 2020, City of Cape Town fire crews were alerted to the fire and tried to contain it but their efforts were hampered by strong gusting winds. The fire spread to Lion’s Head and Signal Hill. As the fire escalated, at approximately 20h00, the chief fire officer of AFB Ysterplaat was alerted by the Acting Officer Commanding Lieutenant Colonel Jonker Kyle to be on standby for possible response.
Within 30 minutes of the go-ahead from the SAAF Command Post in Pretoria, a five-strong team of Ysterplaat fire fighters embarked for the Tafelberg Road area with an Atego Hazmat vehicle and commenced fire fighting which was to last all night. Their efforts assisted in containing the fire which had spread to Lion’s Head and Signal Hill. The first team on site recorded 150 minutes of pump time and used more than 30 000 litres of water. They were relieved at 7h00 by another Ysterplaat fire fighting team, this one four-strong.
A 22 Squadron Oryx medium transport helicopter was on standby to provide aerial fire fighting and evacuation assistance if needed.
Sources: Jermaine Carelse, spokesperson, City of Cape Town Fire and Rescue service, Defence Web and SANParks