Cape Town fire: Aussie says it’s all too familiar
Jason McGrath drew on his experience of wildfires back home but says ultimately a miracle saved the day
An Australian’s familiarity with bush fires in his home country came in handy on Sunday evening when an out-of-control blaze loomed close to his flat at the foot of Table Mountain.
Jason McGrath and his partner were among scores of people who evacuated their homes on the Atlantic Seaboard and watched from a distance as the flames threatened their properties on the slopes of Signal Hill in Freysnaye, Cape Town.
No deaths were reported and no properties were damaged, said safety and security MEC JP Smith.
“Yesterday afternoon myself and my partner said we really need to watch a movie,” said McGrath.
“Little did we know we would actually be in our own movie a little bit later on. My partner saw some smoke – she comes from George and she is used to living behind a mountain.”
McGrath said he walked up the trail bordering the mountain and the suburb to check the direction and the speed of the fire as the flames were raging around Lion’s Head. He panicked when he heard on the news that the fire had reached Signal Hill Road and was headed towards his home.
“At that point there was smoke everywhere. It was just unbelievable,” said McGrath.
“All I heard were shouts: ‘Evacuate, evacuate!’ We picked and loaded my partner’s clothes into the car ... we chilled a bit because some locals, who are used to the situation, said sometimes the fire just doesn’t come this way. It just kept coming and it was actually scary because you could see the fire coming down.”
McGrath said he lives in Australia “for part of the year” and knows how to deal with bush fires.
“I moved all wooden furniture and anything flammable and I put it around the corner. I got buckets of water and watered the edge,” he said. “Then the wind just miraculously turned and blew the other way. I didn’t sleep at all; it was about 1.30am. Then the caretaker came and watered the plants around here. I slept around 6am.”
McGrath added: “I was supposed to go to the UK and the trip was cancelled. My partner would have been on her own. I was so happy I was there with her. I still love it here but the fire took me by surprise.”
By Monday afternoon 80% of the fire had been doused, Smith said. Two helicopters had been firebombing the blaze and the wind had died down.
“It is alleged that the fire was started by a vagrant but we did see fires starting in close proximity, very quickly,” he added.
“There is a possibility that it was started purposely.”