Thousands of people evacuated as wildfires spread across Table Mountain in Cape Town

April 19, 2021

Thousands of people are being evacuated from Table Mountain in Cape Town where winds are continuing to fan forest fires towards neighbourhoods.

Around 250 firefighters are trying to control the blaze as thick smoke obscures visibility throughout the city centre.

People were told to consider moving to safety as helicopters continued to drop water on threatened areas.

People in three 17-storey residential buildings overlooking Cape Town city were being evacuated as the fires burned out of control along Table Mountain.

The fire started on Sunday morning on the slopes of Devil's Peak, another part of Cape Town's mountainous backdrop.

It forced University of Cape Town students to be evacuated as flames set several campus buildings ablaze, including a library housing historic book collections and scripts.

The university, ranked among the best on the continent, is largely built on the slopes of Devil's Peak and is situated close to where the fire started.

Other properties damaged includes the popular hikers' restaurant at Rhodes memorial and the thatch-roofed Mostert Mill, built around 1796 and South Africa's oldest working mill.

Officials said two firefighters sustained burn wounds and were in hospital as a change in wind direction had seen the fire spread rapidly towards the city bowl overnight.

Witnesses said winds had continued to sweep the fires and smoke towards Cape Town and were "spreading quite fast".

The plumes of smoke could be seen from long distances while some roads were closed and fire alerts were issued to mountain hikers.

Sky News Africa correspondent John Sparks said: "Really nasty fire right in the centre of South Africa's second largest city.

"It started yesterday morning as a small vegetation fire, but hot temperatures there and strong winds really fanned this fire.

"It has pushed that fire on to the slopes of Table Mountain and that is really concerning for the residents and the authorities in that city."

City officials confirmed one suspect was detained last night on Devil's Peak amid speculation that additional fires may have been started and whether the original fire was deliberately lit in an act of arson.

Eyewitness by Sky News Africa Correspondent John Sparks

We did not have to drive too far to find the great Cape Town fire.

Heading into town along the city's N2 motorway, traffic cones were used to divide the road in two.

On the left, we found a squadron of fire trucks and water tankers occupying the verge. We had arrived at the front line, a point along a six-lang highway where the fire would simply have to be fought.

On the other side of the N2, a densely populated district called Woodstock stretched down to the sea and the firefighters, in their bright yellow helmets, were doing everything they could to protect it.

They connected their hoses to the city's fire hydrants and unravelled them, up the slope, in the general direction of Table Mountain.

The verdant fields which surround this majestic outcrop had been badly scorched and we watched the fire fighters train their hoses on burning embers and smouldering tree stumps.

But the men were surrounded by hundreds of miniature fires, creeping and stirring amongst the undergrowth - and their task appeared insurmountable.

Nor were they granted assistance from the air as strong gusts of winds made an airborne assault with water-carrying helicopters a practical impossibility.

Instead, we watched a wall of fire race its way eastward around elevated sections of the mountain.

This would no doubt, cause panic - or mass-prayer - in much of the world, but Cape Town has greeted it with something like a sigh. The people of this city are a hardy bunch, seeing off any number of calamities in the last few years.

Just three years ago, the city officials worried the water system would run dry after several years of drought but residents carried on, capturing rain from their roofs and re-using dish water in the garden.

Looking at a wall of fire and smoke on the other side of her garden fence, one resident of a neighbourhood called Vredehoek told me, "you have to be special to live in a place like this, don't you?"

Her name was Alet Loubser and she outlined her precautions - the car was packed and the children were ready to go - but she wouldn't be going far.

"I think we'll go to my sister's. We can see (what happens) to our house from there. It's not the first time you know."

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