20 February 2019

South Africa: Franschhoek Mountain Fire Rages On, Despite Massive Effort

The fire burning near the Franschhoek Pass is still out of control, despite the heavy presence of firefighters battling the blaze.

The fire started on Monday.

"It's out of control, very inaccessible in a very mountainous area," James-Brent Styan, spokesperson for the Western Cape Department of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, told News24 on Wednesday.

He said that 189 firefighters from multiple agencies and five helicopters were on the scene.

"I don't know whether the choppers are flying, because there's a lot of smoke and they have to ensure that the crews are safe."

Firefighters from the Cape Winelands District, Fire Protection Agency and CapeNature were working to contain the fire.

There was no danger to property or people at the moment, said Styan.

"They're (firefighters) trying to keep it (the fire) in a certain area and to prevent it from coming down the mountain," he added.

Traffic officials closed the Franschhoek Pass earlier this week because of the fire, News24 reported. Its closure has been on-and-off as firefighting efforts continue.

"There is still a very large area that is at risk around the current burn scar. A total of 2 800 hectares of veld has been destroyed so far," said Jo-Anne Otto, spokesperson for the Cape Winelands District Municipality's fire services.

"Teams will continue with monitoring, controlling the fire line and mopping-up activities, until the fire has reached the area where direct attack can be rolled out."

The weather is not doing the firefighters any favours.

Data from the South African Weather Service suggests a 0% probability of rain for the rest of the week, as well as high temperatures and light winds in the area.

Styan said the annual fire season was becoming more of a challenge every year.

"Every year, it seems to be getting worse. A big part of the reason is this terrible drought; the veld is like tinder and it doesn't take much to cause it to ignite."


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