Two firefighters have been hospitalised with burns after a runaway blaze engulfed the Rhodes Memorial restaurant and parts of the University of Cape Town, including the Special Collections library, on Sunday.
Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) said initial investigations indicate a fire left unattended by a vagrant may have caused the blaze, which has seen hundreds of students evacuated from the University of Cape Town residences in Rosebank.
JP Smith, City of Cape Town mayoral committee member for safety & security, said two firefighters — one from the City of Cape Town and another from Working on Fire — were receiving treatment.
“The critical thing is that there haven’t been any reports of loss of life, which points to the sterling work that our emergency services are doing. They have been working around the clock to evacuate people and put out the fire. Tragically we have lost the Mostert Mill, which was built in 1796 and was the oldest surviving working windmill in SA, as well as four thatched roof houses behind it. It is irreplaceable. I understand there is another building gutted on the UCT campus and now we have heard about the library. These are all tragic heritage losses.”
According to the UCT website, the Special Collections library consists of printed and audiovisual materials on African studies and a wide array of other specialised subjects, as well as over 1,300 sub-collections of unique manuscripts and personal papers.
The collection of books and pamphlets exceeds 85,000 items on African studies alone. It is understood that some material has been captured digitally. Several firefighting teams have been working non-stop, including helicopters that were water-bombing blazes around UCT.
Cape Town's disaster risk spokesperson, Charlotte Powell, said the city had not called on any residents to evacuate. “The situation is being monitored and staff will go door-to-door in the event that evacuation is required.
“For now, residents are advised to keep doors and windows closed to manage the impact of smoke caused by the fire. “The city can confirm that property has been affected; however, our focus at the moment is on active firefighting efforts and updates on affected properties will be provided when the information is available.”
She said donations of water, energy drinks, energy bars and eye drops could be dropped off at the Roeland Street fire station.
Paddy Chapple, councillor of ward 57 which covers large parts of Rosebank and Mowbray, said residents were advised to damp down roofs and gardens. He said UCT residents had been evacuated as a precautionary measure and were scheduled to be relocated at Rondebosch Commons.
“Reports that the UCT sports centre had been burnt down is fake news,” he added.
– Daily Dispatch