Wildfire Damages Historic University of Cape Town Library & Leads to Evacuation of 4,000 Students

South Africa Africa Higher Education News by Erudera News Apr 20, 2021

Cape Town Library

Two firefighters were hospitalized after battling the spread of a wildfire that damaged the University of Cape Town’s Library during the weekend.

The fire fueled by strong winds has caused many historic library pieces to be lost; a vast part of Table Mountain burned and forced 4,000 students to be evacuated, Erudera.com reports.

The Executive Director of the University of Cape Town (UTC), Ujala Satgoor, said some of the valuable collections of the library had been burned. Still, a final evaluation is to be determined once the building is safe.

“At this stage, we can confirm the Reading Room is completely gutted, and thankfully the fire detection system in place triggered the fire shutters thereby preventing the spread of the fire to other parts of the Library,” Satgoor said in a press statement released on April 19.

According to the UTC’s website, the library contains many printed and audiovisual materials on African studies, such as 1,300 sub-collections of unique manuscripts and personal papers; over 85,000 books and pamphlets on African studies and works on Africa and South Africa printed before 1925. It also houses one of the largest African film collections in the world.

The local authorities have arrested a man related to the case and said they are still investigating the causes of the fire. According to South African National Parks (SANParks), which manages Table Mountain, the fire was initially started unintentionally by a homeless person.  

Rey Thakhuli, a spokesman for SANParks, said that the fire had destroyed about 1.5 square miles (400 hectares) of land.

“One of the major contributors to the rapid rate of spread was the very old pine trees and their debris. The fire created its own wind that further increased the rate of spread,”  SANParks said in a statement.

The Cape Town mayor, Dan Plato, claimed that it is tragic that academic and historical treasures have been lost. According to him, the most valuable works managed to be saved by the practical roller doors mechanism.

“Our attention and support remains with firefighters and all role players working to protect further loss of property,” he adds.

He also said that the flames damaged the Rhodes Memorial restaurant and Mostert’s Mill, South Africa’s oldest working windmill, established in 1796. A landmark on the M3 highway near the campus, the windmill’s thatched roof and four-bladed sails were burned as locals watched helplessly.

More than 200 firefighters and emergency personnel tried to turn down the fire while four helicopters and a spotter aircraft that assisted on Sunday were forced to land on Monday due to the strong winds.

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