Doubts over arson probe after string of Overberg wildfires
AN INDEPENDENT wildfire investigator has lashed out at the handling of probes into a string of Overberg fires, which were allegedly the work of an arsonist.
Enviro Wildfire Services investigator Rob Erasmus said authorities should have launched a probe to establish where and how the fires started. This would clarify whether the fires were indeed deliberate and what tools the person used to spark them.
“The police have been reluctant to open a case because there hasn’t been an investigation to find out what the cause was. There’s no proof that the fire was started intentionally.
“Just because someone saw a person running away isn’t proof. That’s what people do when there’s a fire.”
Despite media reports this week that the police were hot on the trail of the arsonist, the police investigation has come to a dead end.
Police spokesman Captain FC van Wyk said that a charge had been laid only on Wednesday. They had no suspects, and have urged the public to come forward with any information.
Erasmus has offered his services free of charge to the Overberg District’s fire department, as well as Cape Nature, but has had no response.
Overberg District fire and disaster chief Reinard Gelden- huys said they first wanted the police investigation to run its course.
“We have received an offer from Mr Erasmus. I’m in touch with CapeNature and we will be responding to him, but for now, it’s a police matter.”
Erasmus said that he would soon be contacting property owners in the Overberg region, who had the right to request an investigation since the fires came dangerously close to a few homes. Firefighters have had their hands full with a half dozen fires which raged over the last couple of weeks.
The latest was a small veld fire in Swellendam, which Geldenhuys believed could have been started by children.
However, fires in the Greyton mountains, Groenlandberg, the Agulhas Plain and between Botrivier and Franschhoek burned for days before they were extinguished.
Former neurosurgeon and winemaker Paul Cluver is lucky to be alive after he burnt his hands, arms and parts of his face trying to fight the fire in Groenlandberg.
In Kleinmond this week, residents feared for their homes as a fire, which started in an infor mal settlement, spread to the mountain, coming close to houses near the base of the slopes.
The fire was put out and a man admitted starting the fire while burning cables to get to the copper wire. But it is believed he is not linked to the other Overberg fires.
Erasmus said an investigation into the manner in which the rest of the Overberg fires started should be conducted as soon as possible.
“There’s the perception out there that you can’t find the cause of a veld or mountain fire, but this is not the case. If you take it square metre by square metre, you can find out exactly how and where a fire started.”
FIRE RELIEF: A helicopter drops a load of water on a devastating fire that raged over the mountains in Kleinmond and threatened homes.