South Africa’s popular tourism spot and biodiversity hotspot Table Mountain is on fire, which led to the evacuation of visitors and university students nearby, sources said on Sunday.
The fire and rescue service of Cape Town, where Table Mountain is located, was alerted to a vegetation fire above Philip Kgosana Drive, eastern flank of the mountain, about 8:45 a.m. local time (6:45 a.m. GMT) and fire crews were immediately dispatched to the scene, the city municipality said via its Twitter handle.
The fire was spreading from Rhodes Memorial, which was in memory to British colonialist Cecil John Rhodes, towards the nearby University of Cape Town, it said, urging people not to enter the area.
Three helicopters were bringing water to assist in fire extinction. Fires were seen from roads and neighborhoods close to the mountain, and residents living more than 15 km away clearly witnessed heavy smoke rising from the scene.
South African National Parks (SANParks), which manages the Table Mountain National Park, warned that the fire “is currently out of control” and urged all hikers within the memorial, and Newlands, north of the memorial to evacuate with immediate effect and cars parked within these sections to move as a matter of urgency.
SANParks later said in a press release that it is surmised that the fire was caused by the vacated vagrant.
Due to the high temperature and extremely low relative humidity, the fire “spread rapidly” in the direction of Rhodes Memorial, it said, adding that old pine trees and their debris are a major contributor to the rapid spread.
The excessive amount of smoke and related updrafts made it impossible for the aerial support to slow the rate of spread, and 129 firefighters are fighting with the fire, with more firefighting crews to join shortly, said the SANParks.
Four helicopters from Table Mountain National Park and the city are operating in the area, as well as numerous water tankers and firefighting vehicles.
The Rhodes Memorial restaurant has burnt down and the fire has spread to the veld above the University of Cape Town campus and to areas below the M3 road, according to the SANParks.
A video shared by local media showed that there was an explosion at Rhodes Memorial’s restaurant in the fire.
The University of Cape Town, which was smoke-choked, confirmed that all its students have been evacuated from campus by emergency services support staff.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, which lies against the eastern slopes of the mountain, as well as a major road linked to the mountain were closed due to the fire. Enditem