The fire– which had been raging on Devil’s Peak in Cape Town, South Africa since Sunday morning– is “largely contained,” albeit at the cost of priceless African antiquities. Firefighters struggled to contain a fire that gutted historical landmarks, including the University of Cape Town’s library and the oldest working windmill on the land.
Spokesperson Jermaine Carelse said in an update, “The incident commander at the Roland Street station said it was contained at this stage but there was still active fire fighting going on in certain areas.” Firefighters were able to douse flare-ups in the bushes on the residential side bordering the university and Walmer Estate, but also shared that by “Thursday or Friday it [the entire blaze] should be contained,” Carelse said, noting the gale-force winds howling across Cape Town.
Officials from the UCT, otherwise known the University of Cape Town, shared that the Jagger Library, which houses priceless African studies collections, was among the buildings that burned. “At this stage, we can confirm the Reading Room is completely gutted and thankfully the fire detection system in place triggered the fire shutters, thereby preventing the spread of the fire to other parts of the library,” Ujala Satgoor, executive director of UCT Libraries, said in a statement. “Some of our valuable collections have been lost,” she said. “However a full assessment can only be done once the building has been declared safe and we can enter.”
The library has housed printed and audiovisual materials on African studies, 1,300 sub-collections of unique manuscripts and personal papers, more than 85,000 books and pamphlets on African studies, and one of the most extensive African film collections in the world, according to the UCT website.
“Some of these cannot be replaced by insurance, and that is a sad day for us,” the university’s vice chancellor, Mamokgethi Phakeng, confirmed. About 1.5 square miles of land had already been destroyed by the fire. “One of the major contributors to the rapid rate of spread was the very old pine trees and their debris,” SANParks said in a statement. “The fire created its own wind that further increased the rate of spread.”
While initial reports of fire damage at the Rhodes Memorial fueled speculation of arson due to protests in recent years against the colonial legacy of Rhodes, the matter is still awaiting investigation until after the fire has been completely extinguished.