Doubts over ar­son probe af­ter string of Over­berg wild­fires

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - LEILA SAMODIEN

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.”

PIC­TURE: MICHAEL WALKER

FIRE RE­LIEF: A he­li­copter drops a load of wa­ter on a dev­as­tat­ing fire that raged over the moun­tains in Klein­mond and threat­ened homes.

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