Signal Hill/Lions Head wildfire challenges fire fighters amidst strong winds
The Quarry Hill Road wildfire started just before 16h00 in Tamboerskloof on Lion's Head in Cape Town on Sunday, 27 January 2019. Fire crews from SANParks Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) and City of Cape Town Fire and Rescue Services responded to the incident with further crews from Working on Fire (WoF), Volunteer Wildfire Services (VWS) and NCC assisting. Philip Prins, fire and technical services manager at Table Mountain Nation Park, said that the SANParks’ contracted Huey was deployed immediately with another two City of Cape Town contracted helicopters and a spotter added due to the rapid spread of fire. However, “the aerial support was stood down at 18h40 due to strong winds of up to 70kms per hour,” added Prins. “The strong winds put the aircraft, pilot and crews in danger and the water dropped during strong wind doesn’t reach the fire.”
City of Cape Town’s chief fire officer, Ian Schnetler said that Sea Point Fire Station Engine crew was first response and that by 00h25, the fire had reached the Eucalyptus tree belt and slopes above Clifford Road, Sea Point after spreading up from Quarry Hill Road, over and around Lion’s Head to Eucalyptus tree belt and upper slopes. “16 fire Engines were deployed at the scene at this time due to the strong winds being experienced,” said CFO Schnetler. “The fire was divided into six divisions and an incident management team (IMT) 3 was put in place.”
“At around 1h00am the wind abated considerably, which assisted in the fire being 95 percent contained,” added Schnetler. “The incident command post and staging area was established at the Sea Point Police Station. The fire was contained at approximately 03h00 on Monday morning after the wind abated substantially. From 7h00am on Monday morning, with assistance from two Huey helicopters and a spotter to extinguish Camps Bay side of Lion’s Head, the fire was 100 percent contained. City of Cape Town began releasing resources during the morning and scaling down the incident and the incident command post was re-located to Signal Hill Road,” said Schnetler.
Prins reported that after the strong wind subsided at about 1h00am, SANParks crews were back on the fireline, making good progress. “There was a small section burning at the top of Lion’s Head to Kloof Road. Our crews were again back on the fire line at 6h00 and patrolled the perimeter during the day. We experienced three major flare ups Monday afternoon and redeployed the aerial support. TMNP deployed around 30 crew on standby, the Newlands WoF crew, a visiting WoF crew from the Free State and VWS volunteers, so in total about 70 crew members responding.
CoCT Fire and Rescue released all vehicles late Monday afternoon and carried out regular patrols; incident officially closed Wednesday, 30 January 2019 afternoon. TMNP and affiliated agencies continued mop up operations throughout the night until yesterday afternoon.
As we spoke to Philip Prins on Thursday at around lunch time, there were still random patrols being done by rangers who were in the area.
CFO Schnetler said that the challenges faced were the wind strength, direction, steep slopes and terrain. “Strong winds (South South Easterly at approximately 46 KPH) caused rapid spread and extra resources were called for. Injuries included one adult male (believed to have been caretaker of the Kramat on Signal Hill), received second degree burns to 45 percent of his back, face and arms. There was no damage to property.
TMNP’s Prins said that the burn scar is around 160 hectares and the cause unknown. “Rob Erasmus of Enviro Wildfire is currently busy with the investigation and we will have the report by Friday, 1 February 2019,” added Prins. “We have +/- 20-metre wide firebreaks on the urban interface around the park. The Eucalyptus tree belt firebreak prevented flying embers from reaching structures and there was no structural damage reported. There is some damage to the old pine trees. This was our biggest wildfire to date this season. We face a number of challenges in the park especially due to vagrants using fire for cooking purposes etc and religious worshipping starting fires.”
Prins added, “We have a good relationship between all responding agencies and especially between Table Mountain National park and City of Cape Town Fire and Rescue”.
Report from City of Cape Town Fire and Rescue
Day 1 resources
CoCT Fire and Rescue: 16 fire engines, 1 rescue vehicle, 4 water tankers
2 x City contracted helicopters and spotter utilised by TMNP on Sunday afternoon and first light Monday morning
TMNP: 127 personnel from TMNP, VWS, NCC and WoF
Day 2 (mainly mopping up)
Two squads of seasonal fire fighters from CoCT and 52 recruits from the training academy carried out mopping up operations with two fire engines and water tankers
TMNP: 70 personnel from TMNP (includes VWS, NCC, etc)
Day 3 (mopping up and monitoring)
50 personnel from TMNP overnight (includes VWS, NCC, etc)
Suspected cause: vagrants cooking/fire left unattended.
Fire and Rescue International commends all responders for their dedication and service.
Source: Ian Schnetler, Philip Prins
Photos and videos: Danon Pina, Rowan DM, Cape Town Guy, Brian Van Hansen, WoF, SABC News, Volunteer Wildfire Services, Cape Town Etc