Man arrested as City of Cape Town investigates arson in Table Mountain blaze

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  • A man has been arrested in connection with the runaway veldfire on Table Mountain.
  • The fire started near Rhodes Memorial on Sunday morning.
  • By Monday, the fire had spread to Devil's Peak and Vredehoek.

A suspected arsonist has been arrested in connection with a raging runaway veldfire on Table Mountain.

This comes as the City of Cape Town investigates the cause of the fire that started on Sunday morning.

The man, in his 30s, was arrested on Sunday night, according to City of Cape Town Mayco member for safety and security JP Smith.

LIVE | Read the latest on the Cape Town fires here

The fire gutted the Rhodes Memorial Restaurant and Tea Garden, the iconic Mostert Mill and historic University of Cape Town (UCT) buildings.

More than 250 firefighters have been battling the blaze. Four firefighters were injured and taken to hospital, said the City's Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson Jermaine Carelse.

Firefighters try, in vain, to extinguish a fire in
Firefighters try to extinguish a fire in the Jagger Library, at the University of Cape Town.

On Monday morning, the fire spread toward Devil's Peak and Vredehoek, prompting the City to start evacuating residents as a precautionary measure.

'Spotted by a resident'

According to the Table Mountain National Park, an initial investigation showed a fire started by a homeless person might have sparked the blaze.

"There is a lot of speculation currently about additional fires that were started, and whether the original fire was an act of arson. This will form part of investigations, but the City can confirm that one suspect in his thirties was taken into custody last night in the vicinity of Devil's Peak," Smith said.

"He was spotted by a resident, who tracked him down with the help of his sons and the family's dogs. The matter is with SAPS for investigation and further details will follow as they become available," Smith added.

Police spokesperson Colonel Andrè Traut also confirmed the arrest.

"A 35-year-old male was arrested last night (Sunday) at 20:10 in Philip Kgosana Drive, Cape Town, by a member of the City's Law Enforcement on a charge of arson. It is alleged that a member of the local neighbourhood watch witnessed three suspects making a fire on the mountain, and alerted authorities. Two of the suspects managed to evade arrest. The circumstances surrounding the case are being investigated and an appearance in court is yet to be scheduled," he said.

Some homes in Vredehoek were evacuated on Monday as a precautionary measure, the City's Disaster Risk Management Centre spokesperson Charlotte Powell told News24.

A firefighter looks out across the city as rescue
A firefighter surveys the flames from a distance in the Vredehoek area of Cape Town on 19 April 2021.

"Precautionary evacuations have gotten under way in Peppertree Road in Vredehoek after the fire spread toward the area overnight. [Disaster Risk Management] is also aware of some residents who opted to evacuate in other parts of the suburb due to the smoke hanging over the area," she said.

Firefighting efforts are likely to be further hampered by strong winds during the day, with the south-easter wind expected to increase to around 46km/hour on Monday afternoon.

"Additional fire crews are now stationed at Peppertree and Chelmsford [roads]. Further crews are on Tafelberg Road as the wind speed is predicted to increase throughout the morning. This could also potentially impact on the deployment of aerial firefighting support this morning," Carelse added.

A general view of Plumes of smoke as a fire ravage
A general view of Plumes of smoke as a fire ravages over Philip Kgosana Drive toward Roads Memorial and UCT.

Smith said: "For now, the focus is on bringing the fire under control and we appeal to the public to assist the authorities by following instructions in respect of evacuations where necessary, staying away from the active firefighting scenes so that firefighters can focus on the job at hand, and by reporting any information that may be relevant to the investigations into this incident."

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