Report Indicates Some Cape Fires Set deliberately

The City of Cape Town released the findings of its forensic investigation into the series of devastating wild Cape fires.  It is believed that some of the fires were started by people and in some cases deliberately.

Findings of its forensic investigation into the series of devastating wild Cape fires reveals that some of the fires started earlier this were was started by people – in some cases deliberately.

“The cost of the fires over this period is provisional at this stage, but we estimate that it cost the ratepayer between R20 million and R40 million,” the City said in a statement. “Once the fire had died down, the City commissioned an investigation by forensic investigator Dr David Klatzow. This was done in order to minimise the possibility of repetition by looking into the cause of the fire.”

Klatzow found that the fire, which began on Sunday 1 March, appeared to have originated at the apex of the mountain peaks above St James in the southern peninsula.

“It rapidly advanced with a strong south-easterly wind and within a short time had traversed Ou Kaapse Weg and effectively did not stop until reaching Hout Bay,” he said in his report. .

“Early on in the investigation, I (Dr Klatzow) identified the general fire origin as being on the crest of Pecks Valley at a position just out of sight of the road through St James,” he said. “On ascending the peak from Boyes Drive on 19 March 2015, I observed a shelter of sorts with signs of human habitation. There was a partially burned blanket, together with clear signs of fire-making and smoking material and two lighters. There is little doubt that the main fire which burned across to Hout Bay had its origin in or near this rock shelter and that its cause was human agency. Clear signs of fire-making can be seen.

“It is important to note that the other possible causes of fire, weather conditions and absence of electrical causes could be excluded in this case.

“The use of this part of the mountain for various informal activities is well known to the local inhabitants,” Klatzow’s report found. “Further observations regarding the presence of religious groups on the mountains at night was also provided by residents and a Professor of the School of Architecture at the University of Cape Town.

“The possibility that this fire may have been deliberately started cannot be ruled out, but in my view seems unlikely.”

However, Klatzow further examined other fires near Clovelly and Scarborough and determined they were deliberately caused by human agency.

“Generally, a fire such as that occurring on the mountain above St James will largely conform to the standard burn pattern of fires of its type,” he found. “The shape and ferocity of this type of fire is modified both up and down by factors such as exact nature of the fuel source, the topography of the fire terrain and, most importantly, the wind. Generally, a fire will proceed most rapidly in the direction of the prevailing wind.

“Given this anatomy of a fire, it is somewhat concerning to note the rapid spread of fire towards the west. In this context, the observations made by a resident of Fish Hoek are most informative. He observed through binoculars that a group of people who were carrying torches were setting fires on the mountainside. They set one fire and when it went out, they returned to re-ignite it. This would be a very plausible explanation for the seemingly rapid spread towards the west which is in contrast to the normal fire pattern expected from the position of the source and the prevailing wind conditions.

“I also considered the fire which occurred along the road out of Scarborough. This occurred late in the afternoon. Its position and timing suggest very strongly that this is again of human origin. There were no potential electrical causes present.

“It has the typical anatomy of a single origin fire and it can be seen that its origin is a metre or two off the road,” he concluded. “It is my opinion that the probabilities in this case favour a deliberate human causation.”

His final report found:

* St James and Southern Peninsula: the fire which started at the top of Pecks Valley above St James was in all probability accidentally caused by vagrants, religious groups or overnight campers.

* Clovelly: the fires burning along these slopes were most likely caused by deliberate human agency with the view of starting a large scale fire.

* Scarborough: the fire along Scarborough Road was most likely caused by deliberate human agency with the view of starting a large scale fire.

The fires injured and displaced a number of residents and caused significant damage to properties and fauna and flora.

The City of Cape Town’s Fire and Rescue Service, Disaster Risk Management staff and volunteers, Table Mountain National Park, Working On Fire volunteers, Wild Land Fire Services and Volunteer Wild Fire Services were all deployed to fight the blazes.


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