RING OF FIRE

Taken to safety: Rescue personnel evacuate elderly residents of the Noordhoek Manor old age home, threatened by blaze which destroyed a large part of Table Mountain National Park
Taken to safety: Rescue personnel evacuate elderly residents of the Noordhoek Manor old age home, threatened by blaze which destroyed a large part of Table Mountain National Park

Inferno puts many parts of Cape Town in jeopardy

IT was 1am yesterday and Natalie Wood was not sure whether to run or pray.

A huge wall of fire was racing towards her, gobbling up a mountain slope in Cape Town that was normally such a pleasant sight above her home.

“The whole mountain was just a raging fire,” Wood said, pointing to the scorched veld just a few metres from her front door.

“I got the kids and dogs out, and then started collecting my important papers.

“My brother who lives down the valley called to ask if he could come and help. I told him he better just help himself,” Wood said.

The fire, which started early on Sunday morning in Muizenberg above Boyes Drive, had by yesterday spread across a large area of Table Mountain National Park in the middle of the city.

At first light Wood and her neighbours were still fearing the worst, but last-minute heroics from fire-fighters doused the blaze in their area. Others were not so lucky. Just a few kilometres away in Hout Bay guests were evacuated from the five-star Tsintswalo Lodge shortly before it was engulfed by flames.

Managing director Michelle du Plessis estimated that about 80% of the buildings had been lost.

“The entire main building and first row of rooms is completely and utterly devastated,” she said.

“Currently, nobody is allowed on site, but we are expecting the worst.” A veteran fire-fighter had to be stabilised in the resort’s jacuzzi after receiving firstdegree burns to his hand. He was admitted to hospital.

A further five houses, three of them thatched, were either partially or completely destroyed at different locations on the boundary of the park.

At least 30 households were evacuated, including residents of an old age home and a retirement village.

The fire prompted several road closures, including the world famous Chapman’s Peak Drive where rockfalls have cast doubt on the official route of next week’s Cape Town Cycle Tour.

Race organisers toured the city yesterday to investigate an alternative route.

By late yesterday, the fire had spread on several fronts, but was being kept at bay by a sustained fire-fighting effort involving five helicopters and hundreds of ground staff, including dozens of volunteers. The Western Cape provincial government deployed additional fire-fighters to assist City of Cape Town fire crews.

Provincial staff have been battling a series of other wildfires across the province for weeks, including a major fire outside Tulbach.

Western Cape Disaster Management head Colin Deiner said fire crews were struggling against tough conditions.

“The situation is serious and efforts are being hampered by extreme temperatures, strong winds and inhospitable terrain,” he said.

Western Cape Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning MEC Anton Bredell said: “The idea is to stabilise the situation across the province.

“The teams will be deployed to all the affected areas and will provide assistance to the teams that have been on the ground over the past few days.”

Fire-fighters in Cape Town were preparing to work throughout the night.

At the Silvermine retirement village, residents crowded around a small irrigation dam to watch the fire crew’s helicopters fill their “X” bags used to drop water on the fire.

Retiree Heather Kirk said retirement had never been so exciting.

“They’ve taken most of our irrigation water. We’re just worried about our Khoi fish. There’s always something going on around here,” she quipped.

By last night, the blaze was licking at the edges of the Tokai forest while firefighters battled to contain it. A maximum temperature of 37°C is forecast for Cape Town today.

“The wind has died down significantly today and that has helped the efforts to contain the fire,” mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith said.

“The weather outlook for the next 24 hours indicates that moderate winds will persist, which will hopefully further improve the chances of bringing the fire under control.”

-Bobby Jordan and Jerome Cornelius

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