With the Cape Town Cycle Tour taking place on Sunday, the battle to contain the fire raged on on Tuesday, with helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and ground teams fighting the blaze spread out over a vast area – fuelled by thick fynbos that has not been burnt since the huge fire of 2000.
Hopefully the light rain that started falling in the early hours of Wednesday morning will bring some relief.
The focus of the firefighting on Tuesday morning was Hout Bay and Tokai, where two helicopters waterbombed flames above the multimillion-rand Tokai plantation for hours, landing at Reddam to “hot fuel” – refuelling without switching off.
One helicopter focused on a thick stand of bluegums just south of Elephant Eye cave, while the other waterbombed the line of fire creeping north along the top of the plantations. Later they were joined by a fixed-wing aircraft that dropped three-and-a-half tons of water at a time.
They were helped by the drop in the fierce south-easter overnight, but then the wind changed to a north-westerly during the day, pushing the smoke back over Constantiaberg and making further flying impossible because of poor visibility.
They were forced to leave the area and by late afternoon the fire had got into the plantation.
Philip Prins, manager of the fire section at Table Mountain National Park, said on Tuesday once that happened, it became a serious problem.
“It’s a big headache because the potential to spread is big. It is difficult to fight, those pines are 20 to 30 feet high.
“They started fighting up at level five road and now they’ve been pushed back to level two road. The choppers have been pulled off, they can’t fly in that smoke,” Prins said.
He said the fire, which has burnt about 4 000ha so far, would not be extinguished by Wednesday or Thursday.
“The big problem is the vast area it covers, so it’s a big area to fight,” Prins said.
Late Tuesday afternoon the two Working on Fire helicopters and one from the SA Air Force were waterbombing flames that were moving down towards Clovelly and above Kalk Bay and St James, filling their 1 200-litre Bambi buckets off Fish Hoek beach.
Roadside residents stopped to watch them thudding overhead, waterbombing the fire line over and over, working in a light turned orange by smoke.
Kalk Bay resident Liane Greeff said on Tuesday: “We’ve packed our rabbits and cockatiel and we’re in the street watching the huge flames above Boyes Drive. We can even hear the flames.”
The choppers can no longer take water from the dam in Silvermine as the water level has become so low from the firefighting and SANParks has to ensure the survival of the aquatic life in the dam.
The fire has also hampered traffic in the southern peninsula. One commuter took 35 minutes to travel the 8km from Kalk Bay to Lakeside on Tuesday morning.
The fire started early on Sunday above Boyes Drive in Muizenberg and spread right across to Hout Bay by Monday morning.
Five houses have been destroyed by fire in Noordhoek, as well as the luxury Tintswalo Lodge at the bottom of Chapman’s Peak.
One firefighter has been taken to hospital for burns to his face and hands.
Residents who were evacuated from the Noordhoek Manor Retirement Village and the San Michelle Old Age Home on Monday have returned home.
* The Cape Town Cycle Tour Trust has called for donations to support firefighting efforts.
Donations will be allocated equally between the Volunteer Wildfire Services and SANparks Firefighting initiatives. The money will be handed over at the end of March.
Cyclists on the Cycle Tour database can use the following link, https://online.entries.co.za/entries/findperson.aspx?&eid=3381, to donate via credit card.
Other people wanting to donate can deposit money into the following bank account:
Account holder: Event Entry Admin
Branch: Rondebosch (123209)
Acc number: 1232144355
Acc type: Cheque
Reference: Name and surname or company name.
Meanwhile, President Jacob Zuma has also sent messages of hope to those affected by the raging fires.