The devastating fires that raged across various areas of the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) were started intentionally, an investigation conducted by wildlife services fire investigator Rob Erasmus revealed on Thursday at a press briefing.
The fires began on Sunday 18 April and raged until Monday 19 April. A number of fires flared up in different areas of the park as a result.
Adverse weather conditions were said to have aggravated the ferocity of the fires, namely low humidity and unseasonably warm temperatures. This caused any nearby vegetation to serve as kindling, thrusting hundreds of embers in the air.
As the embers landed in different areas, destruction followed.
Erasmus said three possible options were considered when investigating the cause of the fires: natural causes, accidental causes or negligence and intentional human activity.
He said the team of investigators studied CCTV footage and found that just before the fires started, a vehicle was observed driving slowly on the shoulder lane of Nelson Mandela Drive close to where the fire originated.
The vehicle then made its way back onto the road.
“We have reason to believe the vehicle was associated with the start of the fire. We were informed yesterday that the registration plate of the car could not be determined,” Erasmus said.
An object was reportedly observed being flung from the car into nearby vegetation.
Investigators are now considering offering members of the public a R10,000 reward for any information on the mysterious vehicle, but declined to provide information on the make or model of the car. This information is known to investigators and how many people occupied the car.
This, Erasmus said, was to verify and confirm accounts from members of the public coming forward with information. In addition, the information is deemed to be important when an interview with the potential suspect/s takes place.
As for fires observed on that fateful Sunday evening in which a man was apprehended, Erasmus said his version of events “do not match the evidence we have”.
He said investigations involving the apprehended man and the vehicle said to have started the fires were ongoing, but these fires were seen as two separate events.
Erasmus said whoever started the fire put the lives of countless students, restaurant patrons and residents at extreme risk. He said the city was lucky not to have experienced more destruction.