University of Cape Town landmark campus buildings go up in flames

Cape Town – Two firefighters were injured and taken to hospital on Sunday while trying to contain the fire that razed iconic Cape Town landmarks, including Rhodes Memorial’s restaurant and Mostert Mill, and damaged historic UCT buildings.

The City of Cape Town’s Fire and Rescue Services spokesperson Jermaine Carelse said that they were alerted to the vegetation fire above Philip Kgosana Drive at about 8.45am this morning.

The fire moved up towards Rhodes Memorial and then towards the University of Cape Town (UCT) upper campus.

It can be confirmed that the Rhodes Memorial Restaurant has burnt down, Table Mountain National Park fire manager Philip Prins said on Sunday afternoon.

Part of the UCT library, residences and upper campus buildings were also damaged by the fire.

“UCT is at this stage not able to confirm extent of the damage to property, as well as the number or names of buildings affected,” UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said.

Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency/ANA

“To date, the only evacuations that have taken place are of UCT students in residences on campus. No private residences have been evacuated – should the need arise, DRMC will go door-to-door in affected areas to assist residents,” said the DRMC and Fire & Rescue Service in a statement.

For now, residents are advised to keep doors and windows closed to manage the impact of smoke caused by the fire.

Dramatic images from the scene showed UCT’s library on fire as well as the HWP building.

Students living on campus have been evacuated.

“All academic activities will be suspended tomorrow and on Tuesday. We will provide further updates in due course,” Moholola said.

The cause of the wildfire is believed to be an unattended vagrant fire.

TMNP spokesperson Babalwa Dlangamandla said: “After the initial investigation, it is surmised that the origin of the fire is from a vacated vagrant fire.”

Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

On Sunday evening Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning MEC Anton Bredell said provincial disaster management is continuing to monitor the ongoing fire.

“Four helicopters continue to water bomb the firelines and teams from City of Cape Town, Working on Fire and SANParks continue to work non-stop to bring the fire under control. Between 150 and 200 firefighters are on the fireline. Unfortunately two firefighters have been injured and taken to hospital.”

Bredell said the fire jumped the M3 earlier this afternoon and caused some damage to infrastructure including destroying the historic Mostert’s Mill next to the M3.

Bredell added that a full damage reports remain a work in progress with the priority currently active firefighting efforts.

“The public is urged to avoid the area and allow the authorities to do their work. The city has not called on any residents to evacuate. The public will be alerted immediately should the situation change and any evacuation be needed.”

Late on Sunday the M3 inbound and outbound was still closed between Hospital Bend and Rhodes Drive. Phillip Kgosana Drive inbound was closed at Hospital Bend. Princess Ann Avenue was closed between the Main Road and the M3. Woolsack Drive was closed between Main Road and the M3.

Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato thanked those involved in firefighting efforts: “I wish to express our gratitude for the efforts of firefighters who have been working non-stop to bring this massive fire under control.

“It is saddening to note that property and historic buildings have been damaged by this fire. It is tragic that literary treasures have been lost at the UCT library, but I have been informed that some of the most valuable works were saved by the quick activation of roller doors,” said Plato.

Spokesperson for Disaster Risk Management Centre (DRMC), Charlotte Powell, advised that any donations should be dropped off at the Roeland Street fire station. Donations of water, Energade, energy bars and Eye Gene Eye drops are encouraged.

“Anyone wishing to donate foodstuff is advised that items must be sealed, in accordance with Covid-19 protocols,” Powell said.

Volunteer Wildfire Services (VWS), which is a non-profit organisation fighting dangerous wildfires in the Western Cape said: “If the local community can work together to make collections before coming to our Newlands Fire Base that would be much appreciated to try keep the area uncongested. Light snacks, energy drinks, energy bars etc would be much appreciated.”

UCT urged those able to donate to the emergency relief fund that has been set up. The details are as follows:

Account name: UCT Donations Account

Bank: Standard Bank of South Africa

Branch code: Rondebosch Branch, 025009

Account number: 07 152 2387

Swift code: SBZAZAJJ

The Cape of Good Hope SPCA said that: “If you come across an injured animal and it is safe to do so, please place the animal in a covered cardboard box to minimize stress.”

People can call the SPCA on 0833261604, which is operational 24/7.

E-hailing company Uber has offered UCT students two discounted rides: “For those needing to evacuate the UCT campuses, please apply the promo code UCTFIRES in your Uber app. This offers you 2 free trips (up to R100 each) from this location! Valid until 19 April 2021 – please evacuate safely.”

Cape Argus

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