Following allegations of possible arson, Smith said that police would be launching an investigation.
“The Western Cape Police Commissioner has constituted a task team to investigate the fires in the Cape Peninsula. Detectives assigned to the team met with City staff on Tuesday 11 January 2016 and requested all information that we have at our disposal,” he told Daily Maverick. “The City and SANParks will be assisting the South African Police Service (SAPS) during the course of the investigation.”
A spokesperson for the SAPS, Andre Traut, was tight-lipped about the investigation itself, saying there were no developments to report at this stage. SANParks’ Tarcia Hendricks, however, told Daily Maverick the task team had been put together in response to concern from various bodies about the cause of the fires, but that as yet there was no reason to assume that arson was involved – in the mountain fires, at least. “All extended wild fires on Table Mountain are investigated to appropriate the necessary legal or educational action from the park,” she said.
According to Hendricks, preliminary clues on the latest fires between Devils Peak and Ocean View indicate that these fires were most likely started by homeless people seeking shelter on the mountains making illegal cooking fires. “These fires span out of control when the wind suddenly picks up and the surrounding dry vegetation catches fire.
“However, a thorough investigation will follow to eliminate malicious fire starting which endangers lives, property and vegetation. Incidents on private land will also be investigated should these fires spread onto public land.”
That said, added Hendricks, it remains necessary to eliminate malicious intent, which is what led to the formation of an inter-agency task team. These agencies include the CoCT Fire and Rescue Service and Special Investigation Unit, detectives from SAPS, as well as members from the K9 Dog Unit and Bomb Squad and others. “The intent is to ensure that credible evidence is collected, which will lead to successful prosecutions. The next meeting will be held on 19 January 2016,” said Hendricks.
“Fire”, however, is a broad term: it covers shack fires, train fires, veld fires, mountain fires, electrical fires, all of which have ravaged the Cape on a regular basis. In January 2015, Working on Fire reported that the fire season was the worst in seven years. But the festive season of December 2015/ January 2016 was not to be trifled with, either; temperatures often exceeded 40 degrees Celcius and a gale-force South-Easter kept firefighters struggling for days on end. Nine people, including two children, died in Imizamo Yethu on Christmas weekend; at least 20 homes were destroyed in Ocean View in the most recent fire; thousands were displaced in Elsies River, Delft, Mfuleni, Vrygrond, Khayelitsha, Slangkop and even Cape Town Station over the festive season.