• Several streets in Vredehoek have been evacuated as a runaway veldfire spreads across Table Mountain.
  • The evacuations started in the early hours of Monday and are expected to continue.
  • Schools in the area are also being evacuated.

Warm clothes, children and pets were bundled into cars as confused and scared Vredehoek residents gathered at the Derry Street Spar in the early hours of Monday.

They were the first residents to be evacuated from Peppertree Road and surrounds, as firefighters tried to douse a runaway fire that started on Sunday morning.

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The fire has already destroyed the Rhodes Memorial restaurant, the iconic Mostert Mill and historic UCT buildings.

More than 250 firefighters have been battling the blaze for over 24 hours, while four firefighters have been injured, said the City of Cape Town’s Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson, Jermaine Carelse.

On Monday morning, the fire had spread towards Devil’s Peak and Vredehoek.

A firefighter looks out across the city as rescue

A firefighter looks out across the city as rescue services battle the raging vedlfire in the Vredehoek area of Cape Town on 19 April 2021.

Business Insider SA Luke Daniel/Business Insider

The City’s Disaster Risk Management Centre spokesperson Charlotte Powell told News24 early on Monday that evacuations were under way.

One of those evacuated from their homes in the early hours was local resident Deon Liebenberg.

Liebenberg, along with many of his neighbours, held a vigil on Sunday night, watching the flames creep closer to their homes.

“There were quite a few houses around me with their lights on; people weren’t sleeping. The fire looks even more intimidating in the dark,” he said, while recalling the red glow of the approaching flames.

At around 03:00, Liebenberg, his wife and two daughters were ordered to leave their home.

Fire spread rapidly

“It was hectic, waking the kids up and driving out of Vredehoek. Most people ended up in the parking lot at the Derry Street Spar, trying to figure out what to do,” he said.

Driven by strong winds, the flames continued to spread, with authorities closing off Peppertree and Chelmsford roads.

Business Insider journalist Luke Daniels, who lives only a few blocks from the affected area, told News24 that the fire had spread rapidly.

“At 22:00 the fire was still on the other side of the mountain, but by 04:00 it was right on our doorstep”, he added.

A firefighter looks out across the city as rescue

Firefighters and rescue services at work in the Vredehoek area of Cape Town on 19 April 2021.

Business Insider SA Luke Daniel/Business Insider

“Fire trucks are going up and down. Emergency services have set up a base of operations in the local parks and closed off some roads. The streets are covered in smoke, and the visibility is very poor – around 50 metres,” he added.

In Pineoak Road, residents were alerted to the evacuations by officials with loudhailers.

Resident Jason Freel said everyone was on tenterhooks.

“We are all extremely anxious, we just heard that a home had burned to the ground in the area. Last night the fire was far away and there was no immediate danger.”

Another resident, Brian Matthew, said the fire started rapidly spreading and the wind just made it worse.

“We are still waiting to hear whether we can go back to our homes,” he added.

Residents ‘nervous, unsure’

Shortly before 09:00, Disaster Risk Management staff and volunteers started evacuating Disa Park, consisting of three high rise buildings on the mountain’s edge, in Vredehoek.

Edwin Nel, facilities manager at Disa Park, said the evacuation had been for safety reasons and there had been no damage to the property.

However, he said, dense smoke hovered over the buildings and flames could be seen on the mountain.

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.

Business Insider SA Luke Daniel/Business Insider

“The fire started last night and we could see the flames. At one stage they were around 60 metres from the building. Some residents were nervous and unsure what to do, but they’ve been safely evacuated. Many have gone to family and friends in the area, and those with nowhere to go have been assisted,” he said.

Residents of Ministerial Estate and Mountain View complexes had also been evacuated, while schools in the Vredehoek area were also asked to evacuate.

“Residents are requested to please cooperate with the instructions of staff and the enforcement services, and to evacuate as quickly as possible if requested,” Powell said.

She urged residents to please remember to take their chronic medication, identity documents, passports, cash, cellphones, bottled water, non-perishable food, a set of clothing, a blanket and toiletries.

“If evacuation is ordered, residents are requested to make use of wet towels or rags wrapped around their mouth and nose,” she added.

Teams have been dispatched to other areas along the mountain, including Zonnebloem, said Powell.

The firefighting efforts are likely to be further hampered by strong winds during the day, with the south-easter expected blow at around 46km/h by Monday afternoon.

Meanwhile, a suspected arsonist was arrested after he was allegedly seen starting a fire in the Devil’s Peak area on Sunday night.

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