Vredehoek residents in the City Bowl began evacuating their homes early this morning as strong winds picked up at about 2am and keep fanning a fire that started at about 8.45am yesterday and has razed iconic Cape Town landmarks.
City of Cape Town Disaster Risk Management spokesperson Charlotte Powell confirmed that evacuations were underway, with Fire and Rescue vehicles on the scene as the wind speed is predicted to increase throughout the morning. In Vredehoek, Chelmsford Road and Pepper Tree Road have been closed as well as Tafelberg Road, said the City’s Traffic Services spokesperson, Maxine Bezuidenhout.
The M3 inbound and outbound is still closed between Hospital Bend and Rhodes Drive; Phillip Kgosana Drive inbound is closed at Hospital Bend; Princess Ann Avenue is closed between the Main Road and the M3; and Woolsack Drive is closed between Main Road and the M3.
’’We’ve been evacuated. If you stay in Vredehoek and haven’t left yet I’d suggest you pack your bags and be ready. Don’t forget closed shoes, water and a mask,’’ a Vredehoek resident posted on Twitter at 5.41am.
’’The fire has now spread towards the Vredehoek area as a result of the south-easter. The wind speed increased from about 2am this morning and additional fire crews are now stationed at Pepper Tree and Chelmsford area.
’’As a precautionary, these areas were evacuated. Further crews are on Tafelberg road as the wind speed is predicted to increase throughout the morning.
’’This could also potentially impact on the deployment of aerial firefighting support this morning. More than 250 firefighters from the City, Table Mountain National Parks (TMNP), Working on Fire and the Volunteer Wildfire Services remain on the ground, fighting the fire on various fronts,’’ said a City spokesperson at 7.11am.
The vegetation fire, believed to have been started by a vagrant, first moved up towards Rhodes Memorial and then towards the UCT upper campus. Rhodes Memorial Restaurant has burnt down, while part of the UCT library, residences and upper campus buildings were also damaged by the fire.
Two firefighters were injured and taken to hospital on Sunday while trying to contain the fire, the Cape Argus reported.
Fire crews have been working throughout the night. The City has more than 150 of its firefighters on the scene from various stations across the metropole, working alongside the TMNP staff, Working on Fire and the Volunteer Wildfire Services.
“UCT is at this stage not able to confirm extent of the damage to property, as well as the number or names of buildings affected,” UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said last night.
Dramatic images from the scene showed UCT’s library on fire as well as the HWP building. Students living on campus have been evacuated.
“All academic activities will be suspended tomorrow and on Tuesday. We will provide further updates in due course,” Moholola said.
Commenting on how the fire started, Table Mountain National Park spokesperson Babalwa Dlangamandla said yesterday: “After the initial investigation, it is surmised that the origin of the fire is from a vacated vagrant fire.”
On Sunday evening, Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning MEC Anton Bredell said provincial disaster management is continuing to monitor the ongoing fire.
“Four helicopters continue to water bomb the fire lines and teams from City of Cape Town, Working on Fire and SANParks continue to work non-stop to bring the fire under control. Between 150 and 200 firefighters are on the fire line. Unfortunately, two firefighters have been injured and taken to hospital.”
Bredell said the fire jumped the M3 yesterday afternoon and caused some damage to infrastructure, including destroying the historic Mostert’s Mill next to the M3.
Bredell added that a full damage reports remain a work in progress with the priority currently active firefighting efforts.
“The public is urged to avoid the area and allow the authorities to do their work. The city has not called on any residents to evacuate. The public will be alerted immediately should the situation change and any evacuation be needed.”
Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato thanked those involved in firefighting efforts: “I wish to express our gratitude for the efforts of firefighters who have been working non-stop to bring this massive fire under control.
“It is saddening to note that property and historic buildings have been damaged by this fire. It is tragic that literary treasures have been lost at the UCT library, but I have been informed that some of the most valuable works were saved by the quick activation of roller doors,” said Plato.
Powell advised that any donations should be dropped off at the Roeland Street fire station. Donations of water, Energade, energy bars and Eye Gene Eye drops are encouraged.
“Anyone wishing to donate foodstuff is advised that items must be sealed, in accordance with Covid-19 protocols,” Powell said.
Volunteer Wildfire Services (VWS), which is a non-profit organisation fighting dangerous wildfires in the Western Cape, said: “If the local community can work together to make collections before coming to our Newlands Fire Base, that would be much appreciated to try keep the area uncongested. Light snacks, energy drinks, energy bars etc would be much appreciated.”
UCT urged those able to donate to the emergency relief fund that has been set up. The details are as follows:
Account name: UCT Donations Account
Bank: Standard Bank of South Africa
Branch code: Rondebosch Branch, 025009
Account number: 07 152 2387
Swift code: SBZAZAJJ
The Cape of Good Hope SPCA said that: “If you come across an injured animal and it is safe to do so, please place the animal in a covered cardboard box to minimize stress.”
People can call the SPCA on 0833261604, which is operational 24/7.
E-hailing company Uber has offered UCT students two discounted rides: “For those needing to evacuate the UCT campuses, please apply the promo code UCTFIRES in your Uber app. This offers you 2 free trips (up to R100 each) from this location! Valid until 19 April 2021 – please evacuate safely.”