Fire Season 2023: Stay safe on Table Mountain

November in Cape Town marks the start of the annual fire season. This seven-month period brings warm and windy weather – ideal conditions for wildfires. Being safe and responsible when enjoying the outdoor environment becomes even more important during this time.

“Our own team has been working long and hard to get everything ready for an exciting summer season for all our visitors. We thank our partners who have done incredible work to prepare the mountain for this period of the year and minimise the risk of fire,” says Wahida Parker, managing director for the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company.

One key measure taken to protect the slopes of Table Mountain from uncontrolled wildfires is to perform prescribed burns. These prescribed burns remove any dry, flammable material that makes future uncontrolled wildfires much less likely. SANParks successfully executed one such prescribed burn below Tafelberg Road at the end of March this year.

“We’ve all seen and experienced wildfires across the city over the years. Everyone remembers the devastating fire of 2021, but there have been several other examples that show how dangerous and destructive a fire can be, and the damage it can cause – especially when it becomes uncontrollable. We all have a duty to prevent fires from starting in the first place, and to raise the alarm immediately if we see one starting,” says Parker.

She offers practical tips and suggestions that should be considered:

Respect the rules.

Social fires in the form of braais are part of our cultural consciousness, but you must make sure you start a fire in a place where it is allowed and that you’re always in control of the flames. Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) has very strict and very clear rules about making fires on the mountainside.

“Respecting these rules is the most helpful and responsible step to take to avoid dangerous scenarios. Adherence is not optional; they are enforceable by law,” says Parker.

Watch the wind.

The strong southeasterly wind in Cape Town may have different nicknames, but whether you call it “The Southeaster” or “The Cape Doctor”, one thing is for certain: This wind can be extremely strong and can very quickly shift direction. These erratic gusts pose an enormous challenge for firefighters when trying to contain a wildfire. In strong winds, wildfire flames can jump across entire roadways, spreading into other areas.

“Please avoid any areas that are close to where flames are already burning, especially if there is a strong wind blowing, which can make the fire quickly spread. Allow firefighters the space they need to do their work, and only approach the area once they have told you it is safe,” cautions Parker.

Raise the alarm.

A flame can start quickly and spread even faster. Time is of the essence to ensure the fire does not get out of control.

“If you are outdoors this season, be on the lookout for smoke or other signs of a fire that may be starting. TMNP has a specialised hotline for fires: 086 110 6417. Alternatively, the City of Cape Town’s Regional Fire Control can be contacted on 021 590 1900, while the Newlands Fire Base is reachable by 021 689 7438,” says Parker.

CapeNature also offers some tips to help you prevent fires from starting or spreading:

  • Safely dispose of hot ash and coal used for heating and cooking, away from any flammable plant material or rubbish.
  • Do not leave open fires unattended, and smother them with sand once you no longer need them.
  • Make sure there are no illegal electrical connections in or near your home. Illegal and faulty electrical connections can get hot and start a fire.
  • Keep the area around your home clear of materials that can burn – such as firewood, kindling and rubbish.
  • If you see someone playing carelessly with fire, matches or lighters, ask them to stop.
  • Burn rubbish on cooler days when there is no wind.
  • Do not flick cigarette butts out of your car window.
  • Report veld fires immediately.
  • Have the relevant emergency numbers at hand to report any veld fires.

“When we work together and take responsibility for our own safety and the safety of others, we can preserve the beautiful icon that is Table Mountain, and also protect citizens and institutions in the surrounding areas,” concludes Parker.

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