A year after devastating Table Mountain fire, recovery expected to take years

On 18 April 2021, hundreds of firefighters and a range of emergency services flocked to parts of Table Mountain where an "out of control" fire was burning.

The remnants of the Rhodes Memorial Restaurant and Tea Room a year after a fire on Table Mountain that started on 18 April 2021 left the heritage site gutted. Picture: Kaylynn Palm/Eyewitness News

CAPE TOWN - Today marks a year since the devastating fire that guttered parts of Table Mountain and surrounding buildings.

On 18 April 2021, hundreds of firefighters and a range of emergency services flocked to parts of Table Mountain where an "out of control" fire was burning.

Due to strong winds on that day, the fire spread from the vicinity of Philip Kgosana Drive, to Rhodes Memorial and continued further towards the University of Cape Town (UCT).

The remnants of the disaster are still evident, with only some areas of the landmark sites rehabilitated.

A probe found that the fire was not a natural occurrence but no arrests have been made.

The Rhodes Memorial Restaurant and Tea Room was once a place where people would relax and enjoy a variety of foods, surrounded by nature and stunning views, whether it be summer or winter.

Now, all that is left is an empty shell. Raw brick walls are covered with hard black plastic, with no windows, doors and roofs.

The remnants of the Rhodes Memorial Restaurant and Tea Room following the fire on Table Mountain on 18 April 2021. Picture: Kaylynn Palm/Eyewitness News

SANParks' Lauren Clayton said that this fire was significant: "The Rhodes Memorial fire was significant as it was the area that burnt the most - about 650 hectares for the Rhodes Memorial - was the most we've experienced this fire season."

She added that SANParks had received an insurance costing for the tea room.

"It's just a process that needs to follow now in terms of drawing our plans to rebuild and we are looking at whether or not SANParks carries the cost to rebuild it or we'll put it out on tender process but it's a very long process," Clayton said.

Clayton said that it was a heritage site, so Heritage Western Cape and the Department of Public Works needed to come to an agreement as to what would happen to the site.

YEARS OF RECOVERY

SANParks said that it would take years to recover what was destroyed in last year's fire.

According to Clayton, over 650 hectares was destroyed during the fire.

Tree stumps are all that remain after burnt trees were harvested along the foot of Table Mountain following the devastating fire that started on 18 April 2021. Picture: Kaylynn Palm/Eyewitness News

This meant that after the fire, lots of work needed to be done.

She said that they had identified areas of concern and appointed a contractor to harvest the burnt trees as it was a safety risk for users of the park.

"The area was closed to the public and has since been reopened. Rehabilitation work starts now and then we have various hacking groups coming in from the Friends of Rhodes, coming in to clear the area as well as remove alien vegetation," Clayton explained.

Clayton said that because of the extent of the fire, there was a lot of ground still to cover.

"The area of concern, being the Groote Schuur estate, will take a number of years for the area to naturally rehabilitate itself and for us to come in and rehabilitate the paths that were lost during the fire and also clearing alien vegetation," she said.

Over the past fire season, teams responded to 118 fires in the Table Mountain area and had a 96% suppression rate.

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