Cape Town blaze almost contained: parks agency

Cape Town (AFP) –


A sweeping fire on South Africa's iconic Table Mountain that choked Cape Town with smoke and destroyed several historic sites including a university library was almost fully contained on Tuesday, officials said.

High winds had strengthened the blaze that was first spotted Sunday but calmer weather conditions Tuesday allowed for fire crews to ramp up their aerial attack with five helicopters, said Rey Thakhuli, spokesman for South Africa National Parks.

"Approximately 90 percent of the fire has been contained," he said in a statement to AFP.

The fire first broke out in the foothills of Table Mountain, a favourite with tourists, and spread to the University of Cape Town (UCT), destroying buildings and forcing students to flee.

At least 600 hectares (1,500 acres) of land were charred, according to the parks agency.

The university library that housed a unique collection of African archives and an 18th century Mostert's Hill windmill was gutted.

"It is not only the historic buildings themselves that have been lost, but their contents and collections," the Cape Town Heritage trust said in a statement Monday written from an office "enveloped in a pall of smoke".

Pictures of the library showed huge orange flames ripping through the building.

The university's Vice Chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng described the loss as "profound".

"We have lost our precious collection and some of it we will not be able to replace because it included part of the African Studies collection, (around) 3,500 African film collections, part of government publications collections," she told local televsion news network eNCA.

"We are devastated," she said.

More than 4,000 students were evacuated and put up in hotels, she said.

Cape Town city officials said residents from nearby areas were evacuated as a precautionary measure.