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Table Mountain Fire: Battle is Won, but the War?

Despite several flare-ups over the weekend, Cape Town’s firefighters have mastered Table Mountain’s worst blaze in decades, which started on Thursday, 26 Jan, and left large parts of Signal Hill, Lion’s Head, the Twelve Apostles and Table Mountain itself with ugly black and brown scars.

See SA Blog’s coverage of the fire, including pictures, here.

A tourist from the UK was arrested after a witness pointed him out as the unsuspecting arsonist. According to reports, his cigarette butt, cast into the tinder-dry bush, ignited the blaze; the winds howling down the mountainside did the rest.

The most serious charge the man faces is culpable homicide: a woman hiker, also from the UK, was caught in the thick smoke, and perished while her daughter and fellow-hiker sought help.

The damage to the Cape Floral Kingdom, meanwhile – known for its fynbos, one the world’s most diverse groups of flora – is still unclear. At least one ecologist has said that the extinction of some fynbos species – possibly including certain protea bushes – is all but inevitable. (Websites on fynbos are generally quite wretched; Living Fynbos is the best; find other links here.)

With municipal elections around the corner – and with news of mooted cuts to the fire department’s budget circling in the press for weeks ahead of Thursday’s blaze – the fire has become a hot-button political issue. Cape Town’s African National Congress (ANC) mayor is defending her administration vigorously against the opposition Democratic Alliance’s (DA) slings and arrows – but also appears to be losing ground on the issue. See the front page of today’s Cape Times.

“Fire season” is by no means over yet – both mountain and local politicians remain quite combustible. SA Blog will monitor the fire wars and keep you abreast of what or who gets scorched next.