CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) – Residents are being evacuated from Cape Town’s neighborhoods on Monday when wildfire that spread along the slopes of the city’s famous Table Mountain was kindled by high winds overnight and homes were in danger.
The city council said that residents of parts of the suburb of Vredehoek were evacuated as a “precautionary measure” after the fire spread to the area. Devil’s Peak, one of the mountain’s landmarks, was lit in the early hours of the morning by the flames that had now spread to the front of the mountain and towards residential areas.
A man in his thirties was arrested on suspicion of arson, a city official said, although it was not clear whether he was responsible for starting the fire, which began early Sunday. The man was arrested Sunday evening after witnesses reported three people moved through flames on the mountain slopes and started more fires, Cape Town security officer JP Smith told The Associated Press.
More than 250 city and volunteer firefighters have been deployed to tackle the fire that has already damaged parts of the University of Cape Town, including the library, a historic windmill and a restaurant near a monument to Cecil Rhodes.
Helicopters with water containers hanging on ropes draw water from swimming pools and the nearby sea and throw it into the fire.
Forest fires in the mountains around Cape Town are fairly common in the hot, dry summer months, but are sometimes fanned into huge, uncontrollable flames by strong winds.
Gift of the Givers, a civil protection organization, said it provides meals to around 4,000 students who have been evacuated from the university campus. Many of these students were taken to local hotels, Gift of the Givers said. Activities at the university were suspended until at least Wednesday, the university said.
The charity also provides food and water for firefighters who have been working to keep the fire under control for more than 24 hours.
No injuries to residents or students have been reported, but at least one firefighter has been hospitalized for burns, the city said.
Heavy smoke hung over parts of Cape Town and people were advised to cover their faces with wet towels or rags during the evacuation.
On Sunday, the fire severely damaged the University of Cape Town’s Jagger Library, which holds important archives and collections of books. Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato said some valuable works had been lost, but many were saved through roller doors that were activated to seal parts of the library.
“It is tragic that literary treasures have been lost in the UCT library, but I have been informed that some of the most valuable works have been saved,” said Plato.