Wildfires are raging for a fourth day through one of South Africa’s most popular international tourist destinations, destroying homes and a hotel, and scorching thousands of hectares of spectacular scenery.
Firefighting teams and water-bombing aircraft were again in action on Wednesday as the flames swept down Cape Town’s southern peninsula, a mountainous spine of land running from the city to Cape Point, Africa’s most southwestern tip.
Hundreds of residents of upmarket villages dotted along both the Atlantic and False Bay coasts grabbed pets and valuables as they were evacuated overnight ahead of flames fanned by strong winds and record high temperatures.
A total of 13 homes have been destroyed or damaged by the fires, along with the five-star Tintswalo Atlantic Lodge perched on the edge of the ocean near the fishing port and commuter village of Hout Bay.
“The fires are now threatening properties at Clovelly,” near Fish Hoek on the False Bay side of the peninsula, said Onele Ndesi, spokesman for Cape Town Disaster Risk Management.
No fatalities or serious injuries have been reported, but dozens of people have been treated for smoke inhalation.
A sudden wind change overnight brought flames bearing down on Kalk Bay, a fishing village known for its seafood restaurants and antique shops.
Schools were closed and traffic snarled as residents awoke to a rain of ash and smoke drifting across an armageddon-like red ball of sun.
“The area affected by the change in wind direction is from Kalk Bay, all around the mountain towards the Hout Bay area and then on the opposite side towards Tokai,” said Theo Layne of Cape Town Fire and Rescue.
Firefighters were hoping that a change in the weather would bring some relief after temperatures soared to 100-year highs of more than 40 degrees Celsius on Tuesday.
“Today we’re going to be having a little bit of a cooler day with expected rain, which is going to assist with damping or cooling down of the entire burnt areas,” Layne said.
The fire has ravaged some 4000 hectares of flowering, shrublike vegetation known as fynbos, part of the unique Cape floral kingdom.