A Table Mountain fire has destroyed buildings and left Devil’s Peak burnt.
A Table Mountain fire has destroyed buildings and left Devil’s Peak burnt.

It seems that one of the fires which devastated parts of Cape Town on Sunday and Monday may have been started by someone cooking on the mountain.

Timeslive quoted SA National Parks saying that it was believed a fire left unattended by a “vagrant” was the cause of the first blaze.

Investigations will perhaps show whether or not this was the case.

But even if it didn’t happen this time, sooner or later, a fire will be started, inadvertently, by someone living on the mountain. Sooner or later, someone will fail to extinguish a cooking fire, or the wind will pick up a live ember. It’s a fact: the presence of people living and cooking on the mountain is a fire hazard.

People live on the mountain for a reason. And even those who would have no compunction about chasing them away will acknowledge that if people living on the mountain are chased away, they are very likely to return until a solution is found to whatever problem prompted them to move there in the first place.

For some, the solution may be a shelter. For others, it may be social services, help reconciling with family members, getting a social grant or an identity document, or registering for worker’s compensation or for a place on the housing list. For others, who have skills but cannot apply for jobs, it might be help finding employment. And for yet others, it may be psychiatric care. Some people are homeless because they suffer from conditions which need either acute or long term care, and perhaps permanent accommodation in care homes.

This fire is an urgent reminder that there are compelling reasons – other than compassion – to offer better solutions to the people living on the slopes of our mountains. Not only for their sake, but for the sake of the whole city.
Published originally on GroundUp / © 2021 GroundUp

What causes the majority of fires on Table Mountain?

In an interview with SAPeople a few months ago, SANParks’ Philip Prins told SAPeople that the November 2020 Deer Park Fire was started as a result of a vagrant fire that had been abandoned or left unattended. He said: “During the 2019-20 wildfire season vagrant fires was responsible for 58% of the fires that occurred within the Park.”

What steps are being taken to try avoid these fires in future if they are indeed manmade?

“Significant challenges are being faced regarding vagrant fires within the City Bowl area. Due to the fact that TMNP is an ‘open access Park’ it is difficult to control any people going in and going out of the Park. Vagrants usually enters the Park from the urban areas late in the afternoon or evening and depart again early the following morning. During the night they usually make fires to keep warm and possibly cook / heat food,” said Prins.

“The only way forward is for the TMNP to increase the number of patrols to the known well-frequented sites and to extinguish such fires. This is an ongoing problem as any removed vagrants simply return and start another fire. This is a complex socio-economic problem that requires specialised attention, not only from the Park but also from the City.”

Read the full interview: Majority of Table Mountain fires caused by vagrants