175 firefighters win battle to save Franschhoek, but the war goes on

19 February 2019 - 16:48 By Dan Meyer
A firefighting helicopter waits alongside the Huguenot Memorial in Franschhoek on February 19 2019.
A firefighting helicopter waits alongside the Huguenot Memorial in Franschhoek on February 19 2019.
Image: Dan Meyer

The usual convoy of buses ferrying tourists from one wine farm to another in Franschhoek was upstaged by a fleet of firefighting vehicles and helicopters on Tuesday.

The vehicles stationed themselves beneath the Huguenot Monument at the foot of the Franschhoek Pass, which has been closed since Monday.

A crew of 175 firefighters and support staff are tackling a blaze in the Hottentots Holland, Jonkershoek and Limietberg nature reserves, near Theewaterskloof dam.

After struggling to control the blaze, firefighters from Cape Winelands municipality and Working on Fire were able to prevent the flames from crossing the mountain towards Franschhoek.

Cape Winelands interim fire commander Jaco Thuynsma said while they had managed to stop the fire from spreading towards buildings or vineyards, they were still wary of changing wind conditions and the hot, dry conditions.

"We are playing a waiting game now," said Thuynsma. "We are glad that our efforts this morning were successful and we consider the fire to be under control, but we must pay attention to any changes that may occur."

Some Franschhoek residents evacuated their horses amid the heavy descending smoke, although Thuynsma said that no evacuation directive had been given.

"I can understand that locals might want to move their horses to safety away from the smoke, but there is no mandate for evacuations at this time"” he said.

Resident Francois Conradie said the flames had come extremely close to a property where he keeps pigs and cows. "We removed two horses from the paddocks this morning but it’s merely a precaution. We're sitting here waiting to see if anything happens but the firefighters seem to be doing a good job," he added.

Henrietta Brock from Winelands Fire Protection Association said she expected the firefighting effort to continue throughout Tuesday night.