Cape Town wildfire largely contained, damage is assessed

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A Capetonian watches the sun rise from the top of Signal Hill as smoke engulfs the city of Cape Town, South Africa, Tuesday April 20, 2021. A massive fire spreading on the slopes of the city's famed Table Mountain, at right, is kept under control as firemen and helicopters take advantage of the low winds to contain the blaze. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

CAPE TOWN – Fire crews had largely contained a big wildfire on the slopes of Cape Town's Table Mountain on Tuesday as the city started to come to terms with the damage caused by what officials described as one of the area's worst blazes in years.

About 90% of the fire had been contained, the Table Mountain National Park authority said, but only after firefighters again worked through the night and were into a third day battling the flames.

Those firefighters faced "extreme circumstances" overnight, said the Working on Fire organization, which specializes in dealing with wildfires and has been helping the city's fire department. The operation on Table Mountain had now reached the “mop-up” stage, Working on Fire said.

Fire-fighting helicopters dropped water on areas where the fire still smoldered and smoked on the rocky peaks of Table Mountain. South African army choppers joined the operation to support the fire department after the helicopters were all grounded Monday because of strong winds.

The winds had eased, but thick smoke still hung over the city and fire crews watched for flareups.

“Our first priority remains fully extinguishing all of the fire lines," local government official Anton Bredell said. "Then, over the next few days, firefighters will continue to dampen down the affected areas and monitor for flareups until we are 100% sure the fire is out.

"Once the fire has been extinguished, the investigation into the cause of the fire will be conducted.”

Wildfires are reasonably common in the mountains and peaks around Cape Town during the hot, dry summer months and become especially dangerous and unpredictable when fueled by strong coastal winds.