A spate of fires swept the Western Cape yesterday (21/02)), killing two people, burning down nearly 200 homes and destroying a building at Stellenbosch University.
A man sustained 40% burns in one of five fires within four hours in the early hours in Cape Town informal settlements. City of Cape Town disaster management spokesman Charlotte Powell said 550 people were left homeless.
A strong south-easterly wind fanned the flames in Langa, Joe Slovo Park, Sweet Home Farm, Siqala and Overcome Heights in Lavender Hill.
The fires killed a man in Siqala, and an adult was burnt beyond recognition at Joe Slovo Park .
“The windy conditions created runaway fires, and for a single night there were quite a few large fires,” said fire and rescue services spokesman Theo Layne.
“We deployed 23 fire engines, 12 water tankers and 149 firefighters to all five fires.”
Powell said humanitarian relief was being provided by NGOs, and the council was preparing home starter kits for displaced residents.
In Stellenbosch, the recently revamped Van der Sterr building on the university’s core campus went up in flames yesterday morning.
The fire at the 56-year-old building, which is home to the accounting and statistics departments, caused severe damage.
“Half of the north-west wing is gone,” said Stellenbosch assistant fire chief Tasso Steyn.
“The top floor of the east wing and the inner auditorium are completely gone. The lack of water and low pressure in the university’s hydrants made it harder for us to put out the fire.”
Steyn said firefighters struggled to get access to the building because of electronic locks. These were installed as part of the upgrade, which accounting honours student Helen Kritzinger described as “state of the art”.
Kritzinger said all her classes were in the Van der Sterr building, and she was concerned about her studies.
“People are already making jokes on social media about the fire, but I feel like it’s not funny,” she said.
University spokesman Susan Van de Merwe said a meeting was held yesterday to discuss arrangements for classes.
– Farren Collins, Additional reporting by Shenaaz Jamaal