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Crisis Response Journal Crisis Response Journal

South Africa: Two out of three major Cape fires started deliberately

Posted on 14th May 2015 at 21:20pm

According to a forensic investigation report released on Thursday 7 May by the City of Cape Town, two of the three fires that ravaged the Cape Peninsula in March this year (see CRJ 10:3) were deliberately started, while a third – the largest of the three – was probably started accidentally by vagrants, writes Hilary Phillips.

Flames snaking across the blackened mountain, seen from the National Sea Rescue Institute Base, Hout Bay, South Africa (Photo: Glenn Fourie, NSRI)

The fires made international headlines, destroying more than 3 000ha and several homes, especially near the Tokai forest.

Forensic investigator Dr David Klatzow said that he found clear evidence that the main fire had started at the top of Pecks Valley, above St James.

A picture supplied with the report shows a rocky outcrop, a partially burnt blanket and two lighters, indicating that this was where “vagrants, a religious group or overnight campers” may have started their fire.

“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,” Klatzow said.

And the fire that started further south along Scarborough Road could not have been caused by anything else but human activity, Klatzzow said. “No potential electrical causes were present.”

He reached a similar conclusion regarding the fires that broke out along the slopes of Clovelly.

They too were “most likely caused by deliberate human agency, with the view of starting a large scale fire.”

The City has not finalised figures yet, but it is believed that the fires will cost ratepayers anything between R20m and R40m.

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