Officials say some residents of Cape Town neighborhoods were evacuated as a “ precaution ” after a fire swept through the slopes of Table Mountain.
People were evacuated from Cape Town neighborhoods on Monday as a massive forest fire sweeping the slopes of the city’s famous Table Mountain was stoked by high winds and threatened with homes.
City officials said residents of suburbs on the mountain slopes were now being evacuated as a “precaution”.
The blaze had been largely contained on Monday, but firefighters were still fighting to control it.
Cape Town’s mayor Dan Plato said efforts were currently focused on the mountain above the suburb of Vredehoek, with residents being evacuated “as a precaution”.
“Strong winds put pressure on firefighting personnel as they change the direction of the fire,” Plato told reporters.
Plato described the blaze, which has so far destroyed more than 400 hectares (990 acres) of vegetation in Table Mountain National Park, as one of the largest in the city’s recent history.
Winds of up to 45 kilometers per hour (28 miles per hour) knocked out the water bombing helicopters and more than 250 firefighters attacked each other rapidly spreading flare-ups from the ground only.
Officials believe the fire may have been started on purpose and that a suspect was arrested on Sunday evening.
Local media quoted city officials as being watching for possible “outbreaks.”
“We are watching it because there are possibilities of outbreaks,” said Arlene Wehr, the fire operations commander of the city’s fire department. “It doesn’t mean the fire is done.”
Wehr said the fire inflicted heavy damage on the city’s cultural heritage sites.
“As for the damage to historic buildings, it is quite significant.”
The blaze broke out early Sunday morning on the slopes of Devil’s Peak, another part of Cape Town’s mountainous backdrop, forcing University of Cape Town students to evacuate residences as searing flames set several buildings on campus ablaze, including a library housing historical books and scripts.
Other damaged properties include the popular hikers eatery at the Rhodes Memorial and the thatched-roof mill at Mostert, built around 1796 and the oldest working mill in South Africa.
“It’s not just the historic buildings themselves that have been lost, but their contents and collections,” the Cape Town Heritage Trust said in a statement.
Two firefighters suffered burns and were hospitalized for treatment, officials said, as a change in wind direction saw the fire spread rapidly towards the city overnight.
All schools in the Vredehoek area have been asked to evacuate, a disaster management spokeswoman said, adding that the houses used to accommodate traveling cabinet ministers at Walmer Estate were also being cleared.
A city councilor has confirmed that a suspect was arrested last night on Devil’s Peak after confessing he had deliberately started an additional fire in the Vredehoek area. Authorities are investigating whether the man, who lives rough in the bush, was responsible for the first fire near UCT.
Cape Town, which comes to the end of its fire alert season at the end of April, regularly battles fires near the city center, with the last big blaze in 2020, though climate change and higher temperatures are a cause for concern.