One person has been arrested in connection with a fire that has destroyed scores of historic buildings in Cape Town. A wildfire on the slopes of South Africa’s Table Mountain National Park on Sunday spread to the nearby University of Cape Town campus, burning the school’s historic library and prompting the speedy evacuation of staff and students. The Rhodes Memorial Restaurant was also destroyed.
The fire erupted Sunday morning near a memorial to politician Cecil Rhodes. Firefighters were alerted at 09:00 local time (07:00 GMT) and have been battling through the night to bring the fire under control. More than 120 firefighters have been deployed to the area. One has since been sent to a hospital for treatment with burn wounds. Helicopters also dumped water on the area to contain the blaze.
Authorities said the flames spread quickly due to the low humidity and dry bush. According to South African National Parks, the fire “created its own wind further increasing the rate of spread.” It said firefighters would need at least three days to fight the blaze. “After the initial investigation, it is surmised that the origin of the fire is from a vacated vagrant fire,” it said. “Due to the extreme Fire Danger Index for today, which is Red with temperatures of 36 degrees noted and an extremely low relative humidity of under 10%, the fire spread rapidly in the direction of Rhodes Memorial,” it explained.
Local media say the police are now investigating what could be a deliberate case of arson following the arrest of the suspect.
Sunday’s fire did not only partially destroy the University of Cape Town’s Jagger Library, but it also damaged the Mostert’s Mill, South Africa’s oldest surviving windmill which was built in the 18th century.
Hikers in the Table Mountain National Park have since been asked to leave while residents have been told to keep doors and windows closed. As of Monday morning, the fire has spread towards the direction of Vredehoek, where residents have been evacuated.
Table Mountain, which overlooks the whole of Cape Town and the surrounding area, is a protected conservation area. Home to 8,200 plant species, it is one of South Africa’s most iconic tourist attractions.