Fire forces birds to be evac­u­ated

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - CARYN DOL­LEY

IT WAS a mat­ter of feather ver­sus flame yes­ter­day when hun­dreds of seabirds had to be evac­u­ated from a res­cue cen­tre in Ta­ble View as a fire fast ap­proached.

About 300 pen­guins and other birds in­clud­ing cor­morants and seag­ulls were rushed to safety.

Staff and vol­un­teers with the South African Foundation for the Con­ser­va­tion of Coastal Birds (Sanc­cob) hur­riedly car­ried boxes con­tain­ing the seabirds out of the cen­tre. Some fire­fight­ers also came to their res­cue.

Early yes­ter­day flames came within me­tres of the Sanc­cob cen­tre on the wet­lands in Ri­etvlei near Mil­ner­ton, where a mas­sive blaze broke out on Thurs­day night.

When Week­end Ar­gus ar­rived on the scene yes­ter­day, scores of boxes con­tain­ing var­i­ous birds were po­si­tioned out­side the cen­tre.

Thick plumes of smoke could be seen be­hind it.

Ev­ery now and then the birds could be heard squawk­ing.

Fran­cois Louw, Sanc­cob’s de­vel­op­ment and mar­ket­ing co­or­di­na­tor, said the fire had posed var­i­ous risks, in­clud­ing struc­tural dam­age to the build­ing, flames reach­ing the birds and the dan­gers of smoke in­hala­tion.

“You’re work­ing with en­dan­gered birds that aren’t all healthy,” Louw said.

When the fire neared the cen­tre, the birds at great­est risk had been re­moved first.

“Ap­prox­i­mately 126 of the seabirds are pen­guin chicks that were re­cently ad­mit­ted to the cen­tre af­ter be­ing aban­doned in nearby colonies.”

Ini­tially the birds were to have been trans­ported to an­other safe place.

But fire­fight­ers man­aged to ex­tin­guish the flames near the cen­tre so, af­ter stay­ing in the boxes for sev­eral hours un­der strict su­per­vi­sion, the birds were then car­ried back in­side.

When vol­un­teers opened the boxes at a pond in the cen­tre, the birds plopped down into the wa­ter and splashed around as if noth­ing was amiss.

PIC­TURE: MICHAEL WALKER

RES­CUE MIS­SION: Hun­dreds of birds had to be moved from the South African Foundation for the Con­ser­va­tion of Coastal Birds cen­tre in Ta­ble View yes­ter­day when a fire got too close.

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