The fire at UCT: Not just the usual suspects?

09 May 2021 - 00:00 By William Bond

What set the University of Cape Town alight and what should we do to limit future fire damage? I think the answers are far from straightforward and require some radical rethinking and new action.

I have worked on fire ecology for decades, including on how fires spread. In savannas, we have shown that continuous grass fuel is critical. But not in the UCT fire. A section of the top floor of the Pearson building, housing the Plant Conservation Unit, was obliterated by fire (my office, in the wing next door, survived untouched). The building is deep within UCT's upper campus, protected by a firebreak of over 100m of concrete, tar road and brick paving. It's the sort of protection foresters dream of. The African Studies library is also deep within the campus, far from the burning veld. How did the fires get there? How did they spread so far with no fuel to feed them? What should be done to stop fires spreading from fynbos deep into the city?..

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