Friday, January 27, 2006

An Update On The Fires In Cape Town

It turned out that the fires actually spread further and wider than we first realised - in fact they had jumped to Lion's Head, which is the peak to the right of Table Mountain, and they also did run down the other side of the mountain and were threatening houses in Green Point and Camps Bay.

On the news last night we learnt that one woman had died in the fires. Usually there are no deaths because the fires proceed more slowly and people have enough time to evacuate, but not this time. This morning we heard that it was a British tourist who had been walking on the mountain and had succumbed to smoke inhalation.

Coming in to work we could still see a few small spires of smoke drifting away from the mountain at a few spots so, although we were told it's under control, not all the fires are out and this still presents a danger. The city was also covered in worse smog than usual, a residual effect from the giant clouds that were formed yesterday as the mountain burned.

Sitting in my office this morning and looking out the window I could see a long line of scorched trees that forms the boundary between the top line of the houses and the lower slopes of the mountain. We found out via the news that a UK tourist has been arrested for starting the fires - the claim is that he tossed a lit cigarette. Usually it's quite hard for a cigarette to start a fire, but under the right conditions it can happen.

Just after 13:00 I looked out the window to see that the smaller fires had once again reached the top of the mountain, and a helicopter was bravely flying overhead and dropping water. I also noticed that the fire on the slopes of Lion's Head was getting worse. A few minutes later I had to leave the building to run an errand and was quite surprised to find how warm it was outside, and that the wind was nothing more than a strong breeze, which is quite a contrast to the last few days: we have had galeforce winds that make it incredibly difficult to walk around the city. The relative calmness of today is a strange contrast to the drama of the fires.

By 15:30 the small fires near the top of the mountain had been put out, but ones lower down are still smouldering, as is Lion's Head. Helicopters continue to fly around the city gathering water and then dumping it on the fires. They seem to be battling to keep that blaze under control, and it's quite near houses there too. I can't imagine how much money this must be costing in terms of fuel costs alone.

The pictures below are once again courtesy of René Nortje, and depict what we can see of Lion's Head from our building. (My apologies for the buildings in the way.)

Some of the media coverage has been quite interesting. IOL published a story yesterday about the residents whose houses were threatened as the fire swept down the mountain. News24 ran a story this morning about the death of the British tourist and the alleged fire starter being granted bail, as well as one about the daughter of the tourist that was killed identifying the suspect. News24 also has two photo galleries online that capture the drama from all over the city: one for pictures taken by the professionals and one of images submitted by residents. A local blog also posted a photo of Cape Town burning by night that is being hosted on the Helderberg College server.

Meanwhile, over the past few days there have also been fires raging elsewhere in the city and its surrounds, including in Paarl, a town just outside Cape Town that is famous for its wines. I'm sure that our resources are stretched to the limit so we can only hope that nothing else happens in the next few days.



Blogger Michelle said...

Thanks for the link back. Your pics yesterday were awesome! I was dying to get through from Somerset West to see the action... :)

The pic on the college server was emailed through from my sis-in-law in CTown - seems to be doing the rounds, as others compete to get the best shots out there first. Plenty of fodder for the cameras this time around. I'm just glad it didn't get a whole lot worse.

Friday, January 27, 2006 8:59:00 PM  
Blogger Mandy J Watson said...

Thanks for the compliments, although, again, I have to give all credit to an office colleague more in tune with the modern age than I (although I choose not to be on purpose - it's a long story). I have had my film-camera shots developed and hope to post them tomorrow. The pics are similar (window reflections and all, LOL), but I also managed to get a few other ones as I was on my way home, including one rather neat one (IMHO) out of a moving car (I wasn't driving!).

I am also glad they were able to do such a good job. I was expecting a rerun of the Noordhoek fires of circa 2000, and that (worst-case scenario) we'd return to the city this week to look at burnt-out buildings.

Sunday, January 29, 2006 3:11:00 PM  

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