Who started the second fire?

Lionel Johnson, Hout Bay

With reference to the Karbonkelberg fire which ravaged most part of our mountain, I would hereby like to give a different perspective of my own observation as to what really transpired.

Our people of Hout Bay are entitled to know and should be informed as to what really happened on that fateful day of Wednesday February 22 and not be presumptuous in blaming those four kids for the entire mountain fire that kept flaring up for more than a week.

It is common knowledge that some truant school kids were the cause of a fire that was started on Karbonkelberg just before 10am. But what the majority did not observe was that during that morning in question there were two fires burning simultaneously on Karbonkelberg. I invite you to an inspection of the aftermath as the scars caused by the fires, will support the allegation I’m about to make.

It is very evident that the first fire allegedly caused by those kids left only a small scar on the mountain and could easily have been extinguished by those fire fighters on the ground within an hour or two, as there was not a single breeze blowing at the time.

Approximately half an hour later I saw a second lot of fire trucks from the City arriving, proceeded by about three to four white unmarked cars with roof strobelights flashing.

Within minutes of their arrival, the wind started to blow a little bit, and I observed a second fire developing just above the fire-break close to the gate used to serve as an access to the mountain by four-wheel drive vehicles going to the what we called army camp. This fire was burning independently and quite a distance away from the original fire.

This second fire was either started with some sort of fire accelerant or by several people instantaneously, or both, as it spread so rapidly it turned into a raging inferno, obliterating our beautiful mountain fynbos within minutes.

So it is very unfortunate, or should I say fortunate for everyone involved including those water bombing choppers, to put in such long hours in fighting the fire caused by their very own people, which ultimately resulted in great expenses to the City and everybody else that now have to share the cost.

The authorities should consider the prospect of opening a second case of arson.

* Merle Collins, SANParks spokesperson responds:

The Hout Bay Karbonkelberg fire started on private property and not on SANParks property. It is advisable for private landowners to be a member of a Fire Association (FPA) but unfortunately the landowner on whose property the fire started is not a member of the Cape Peninsula Fire Protection Association (CPFPA) and also are not complying with the requirements of the National Veld and Forest Fire Act (NVFFA 1998).

The Hout Bay Karbonkelberg fire was started by four school children of which one was apprehended and taken to the SAPS at Hout Bay.

Assumption on the behaviour of veld fires requires specialist knowledge and the “second fire” was caused by a burning ember which ignited the veld ahead of the first fire front because the wind speed increased significantly.