South Africa's Table Mountain ablaze

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The fire burning close to Vredehoek, South Africa on January 27.

A large and dangerous fire has broken out on Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa.

Dry and windy conditions have swept the fire around the base of the mountain, pushing it towards the bordering suburbs in the City Bowl and Vredehoek area with furious flames reaching ten meters into the air.

A number of houses along the border of the reserve are being threatened as the fire heads around the mountain from the cable car station towards the southern suburbs. Thick smoke and high winds are hindering fire-fighting efforts and causing havoc with the traffic around the area. Heynes helicopters, contracted to fight fires on the mountain, are assisting from the air. However since the main water reservoirs near the Vredehoek area are shrouded in smoke and water must be retrieved from the harbour instead.

So far one elderly woman has reportedly died due to smoke inhalation and many others may be at risk as they attempt to defend their homes. Firefighters have been attempting to bring the situation under control throughout the night but the blaze continues unabated.

The cause of the fire is still uncertain. However a 36-year-old British man has been placed under arrest for allegedly dropping a lit cigarette whilst on the mountain.

Fires in the area are an annual problem and may threaten to destroy the delicate indigenous fynbos ecosystem. Opinions about the effects of the fires on the mountain vary, however, with some specialists indicating that regular fires could cause permanent damage to the ecosystem whilst others believe that the fynbos is actually partially reliant on the heat of the fire to set off the shedding of seeds.

In previous years the area around Muizenberg and Fishhoek have been ravaged by fires of similar intensity. The scars of those fires still remain.