Devastating news from Cape Town

(Pictures from here.)

A devastating fire that seems to have started somewhere on Table Mountain has swept onto the upper campus of the University of Cape Town, even engulfing the splendid library (last picture; that’s the special collections part in flames).

It’s terrible to see a place you know go up in flames but at least the campus was evacuated before the fire reached it.

I’ve been to UCT several times, including a long visit in 1995 when I wrote a book with George Ellis. The last time was in 2012; see here. During those visits I was based in the Department of Applied Mathematics, which is on the Upper Campus. From what I’ve seen that building has been completely destroyed by the fire, which seems to be out of control.

I’ve not heard any reports of casualties – thank goodness – but it’s still devastating.

UPDATE: Here is an update on the situation in the Library

UPDATE: I’ve heard from George Ellis that the fires are now out: the Maths and Physics & Astronomy buildings have survived.

8 Responses to “Devastating news from Cape Town”

  1. Julien Larena Says:

    A devastating fire indeed. The entire special collection of the African studies library is lost. Some irreplaceable material: photographies, African film collection, posters and pamphlets etc.
    The biology department and the English language department have also been devastated.

    However, as far as we can tell for now, the mathematics building might have miraculously survived the fire while buildings all around have been gutted by fire. Reports on that are still unclear. We will certainly know more about the extend of the damages io our campus n the next few days.

    Those who wish to make contributions to the relief fund can find more details here: https://www.news.uct.ac.za/article/-2021-04-18-fire-affecting-the-rondebosch-campus-of-the-university-of-cape-town-uct

    • Julien Larena Says:

      Sorry for the typos in my previous message. I am writing this after a very long and stressful day and with the head full of emotions.
      As it turns out, the entire special collections of the library are lost.

  2. I was in Cape Town in December 2017 for the Texas Symposium. The big news story then was the drought, perhaps related to the current fire (I don’t know, but at least in some other places recent droughts have increase the number of fires).

    • Fire is normal in Cape Town this time of the year. This was one was started by careless people, but lightning or falling rocks will also do it. The biggest risk factor was the pine trees which had been planted on the lower slopes of the mountain. I guess that they have made the fire difficult to control. I have seen two reports, one stating that the special collections were lost, another that they were in a fire vault. In either case, it is devastating news.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Planted deliberately? The failure to maintain firebreaks was a major factor in the disastrous Australian bushfires a year ago. Human folly is expensive.

      • telescoper Says:

        It seems the fires in campus buildings started on rooftops rather than from building to building which suggests that it was carried by burning materials, probably bits of trees.

      • There is a report of an arrest and suspicion of arson. The fire is now also threatening the buildings above the centre of Cape Town, including the ones which I remember were called the ‘toilet rolls’, the biggest eyes sore in Cape Town and evidence that developers are in no way constrained by planning restrictions.

      • telescoper Says:

        I think that was a separate fire.

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