The City of Cape Town’s firefighters were put to the test over these last few days as they battled to contain fires across the city. Yesterday alone, firefighters battled 106 bush and grass fires. Most of these fires were contained and extinguished before they could cause too much damage. However, several bigger fires continue to rage, requiring crews to work through the night and remain on standby.
The City of Cape Town’s Fire and Rescue Service, along with other services, has been stretched as they battled blazes ranging from the devastating mountain fire in Somerset West to smaller grass and bush fires in the city bowl.
Yesterday, 3 January 2017, strong south-easterly winds fanned the flames as more than 120 firefighters, 12 fire engines and 10 water tankers battled a mountain vegetation fire on the upper slopes above Bezweni Lodge in Somerset West.
The fire was about 80% contained this morning as crews worked throughout the night. Wind conditions are still variable, which affects firefighting operations, and hence the fire is not yet completely under control. Aerial and ground crew operations are still under way in high-risk areas of the Helderberg basin.
The N2 and Sir Lowry’s Pass were closed in both directions between Grabouw and Sir Lowry’s Pass Road. The N2 to Grabouw has since been reopened, while the entrance into Sir Lowry’s Pass Village on the N2 is closed intermittently depending on smoky conditions. The road to the Bezweni Lodge remains closed. Traffic officers are on the scene to direct vehicles and assist drivers.
‘The strong winds and steep terrain were a challenge for firefighters and water-bomber planes and choppers assisted in dousing the flames. Our Fire and Rescue Service worked closely with other firefighting agencies such as Volunteer Wildfire Services and the government-funded Working on Fire programme to contain the blaze, with the assistance of the neighbouring Overberg Municipality,’ said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, Alderman JP Smith.
Other fires which required all hands on deck were a bush and grass fire on the slopes of the mountain above Victoria Road in Llandudno; a fire on De Waal Drive in Zonnebloem; and a fire near Big Bay Boulevard on the West Coast Road. While these fires destroyed measurable tracts of vegetation, there was no threat to life or property.
At present, an assessment of the structural damage caused by the Helderberg fire is being undertaken by fire safety officials. Late yesterday and during the evening, three structures were reportedly destroyed – one being the upper Bezweni Lodge high up on the slopes of the Helderberg Mountains. Confirmation of the damage to the other structures will be made known once the assessment is complete.
‘Fires are a frequent occurrence in Cape Town, particularly during the hot, windy summer months. While the City of Cape Town is constantly seeking to create awareness around fire safety, we urge residents to exercise extreme caution as many of these fires are preventable,’ said Alderman Smith.
The City’s Fire and Rescue Service has between 220 and 250 firefighters on duty on a daily basis. The City also employs 120 seasonal firefighters annually and this year they are joined by an additional 35 learner firefighters who have completed the wildfire training section of their overall eight-month training programme.
During the last few days, emergency services evacuated approximately 70 families and animals in the Helderberg fire area.
‘I would like to commend our firefighters and everyone involved in protecting lives and property. Our firefighters take enormous strain working long hours in unbearable heat. I would also like to thank residents for their support and the Somerset West Neighbourhood Watch for their assistance in engaging the residents in affected areas. I will be in the area of Somerset West tomorrow to meet with the fire chief and staff to do a damage assessment.
‘Public support in general has been overwhelming and residents continue to drop off refreshments. Some have even assisted in distributing refreshments to the crews. It has been heartening to see that the hard work of our firefighters is not going unnoticed,’ said Alderman Smith.
The City encourages residents to take heed of fire prevention tips:
- Dispose of cigarette butts safely
- Dispose of hot ash/coals safely
- Ensure that braai fires are completely extinguished
- Stress with children the importance of not playing with fire
- Do not burn rubbish or leaves on open fields or grassy areas
- Properly discard glass bottles or other glass objects
- Do not block roads with possessions when there is a fire
- Do not prevent or disrupt the work of fire crews fighting fires
Between November 2015 and April 2016, the City’s Fire and Rescue Service responded to 9 983 fires. Nearly 80% (7 845) of incidents were classified as bush, grass or rubbish fires. In terms of residential fires, the breakdown is as follows:
- Fires at formal premises: 696
- Fires at informal premises: 717
- Formal units affected: 569
- Informal units affected: 3 981
- Deaths (formal): 9
- Deaths(informal): 32
Donations of bottled water and other refreshments can be taken to the Strand fire station, from where it will be distributed to fire crews.
To report a fire or any other emergency, residents can call 107 from a landline or 021 480 7700 from a cellphone.