UCT management, fire authorities to assess damage caused by fire

The blaze started as a small fire on the slopes of the mountain above Philip Kgosana Drive on Sunday but blazing heat and gusting winds soon fanned it out of control and by the afternoon, several buildings on and around the campus were on fire.

Firefighters put out a fire at a building on UCT's upper campus on 18 April 2021. Picture: @CityofCT/Twitter

CAPE TOWN/JOHANNESBURG - Fire authorities and members of the University of Cape Town (UCT) executive will begin to assess the damage done to the nation's oldest university following a massive fire.

The blaze started as a small fire on the slopes of the mountain above Philip Kgosana Drive on Sunday but blazing heat and gusting winds soon fanned it out of control and by the afternoon, several buildings on and around the campus were on fire.

The City of Cape Town's fire services spokesperson, Jermaine Carelse: "I think the extreme heat and the wind that we faced and just the weather conditions were just against the firefighters. the wind just blows the embers to the other side. It was dry and a bit windy and there was all the conducive conditions for the fire to spread rapidly."

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The advance of the fire prompted a mass evacuation of students from UCT.

Students in residences were told to pack up the essentials and board campus shuttles to get out of the smoke.

The university's Elijah Moholola said that they had to act quickly to find alternative accommodation.

"We're talking about approximately 4,000 students that had been in the UCT residences. There's a number of hotels around UCT itself that we have worked with where they were able to take a number of our students. Because of the large number involved, they are spread around a few hotels."

Classes have officially been suspended for two days.

"Given the state of affairs given this unexpected development, we cannot reasonably expect any learning and teaching to happen whether students to be in a position to learn or the lecturers themselves to offer any tuition, so for the next two days, classes are suspended."

UCT has confirmed that it had lost parts of the rare African Studies collection in the fire.

The flames completely gutted the Jagger Reading Room on upper campus.

UCT vice-chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, said that they were not sure yet exactly how much they had lost.

"Having lost the Jagger Reading Room completely and some parts of the African Studies collection is completely devastating."

Phakeng was heading to the site later on Monday morning to assess the full extent of the damage.

The Jagger Reading Room was one of several UCT buildings affected by the fire, including residence halls.

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