Tourist faces fire death rap

CAPE ARGUS

THE BRITISH man who allegedly started the Table Mountain blaze in which a woman died appeared in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court today. Anthony Cooper, 36, faces charges of culpable homocide and arson. Cooper, who is staying in Rylands, Cape Town, on a three-month visa, was released on bail of R3000 and would appear in court again on February 10, said a police spokeswoman, Senior Superintendent Tummi Golding. He had to surrender his passport and is not allowed to leave the Western Cape without the written permission of the investigating officer. Cooper, of Swansea in Wales, was arrested yesterday after a Table Mountain National Park Guide saw the fire begin near his car as it was parked on Tafelberg Road. The culpable homicide charge arises from the death of another British visitor, a 65-year-old woman, while hiking with her daughter on the mountain yesterday. She is thought to have died from smoke inhalation. Golding said the woman’s next of kin had asked that her name not be released. Cape Town Metro Rescue spokesman Cleeve Robinson said two other UK visitors were guided down the mountain by rescuers as the blaze raged. It is still not clear whether anyone is missing on the mountain in the wake of the interno. Unclaimed vehicles were left on Tafelberg Road last night, two of which were burnt out. Early today a 17-strong team from Wilderness Search and Rescue conducted a “sweep search” of the area between the Contour Path and Tafelberg Road to check for possible missing hikers. Spokesman Hugo Vaughan said there was no hard information about any hikers, but from the unclaimed vehicles, rescue workers has extrapolated that up to 16 people could be missing. At 9.30am he reported that the first sweep had not found anyone, “which is very good news”. “The search pattern is now in its second phase, and the police are obviously also trying to trace (the vehicle owners),” Vaughan said. Another vehicle was burnt on Signal Hill. Meanwhile, a thick pall of smoke hung over the City Bowl today as the fire, fanned by a howling south-easter last night, was slowly being brought under control. Working on Fire helicopters, joined later by SAAF choppers, were out at first light waterbombing hotspots still burning on the lower slopes of Table Mountain, above Rugby Road in Oranjezicht. An early estimate by Table Mountain National Park fire services manager Philip Prins put the size of the area burnt between 650ha and 700ha. Early today, Tafelberg Road was still closed to traffic, but Kloof Nek Road, which was closed last night, was open. One city-bound lane was cordoned off and fire tenders were parked there, with flames still shooting up in the pines on the Lion’s Head side. The fire was also still blazing on the Camps Bay side of Lion’s Head. “It seems to be OK – we managed to save a few silver trees, but it was hairy,” a weary city firefighter said as he headed for some rest after a long night. The fire was still burning strongly early today high up on the Eastern Table near Maclear’s Beacon, where one helicoper was dousing flames. Alan Weston of the city’s fire services said at about 7am: “Everything’s quiet because the wind has dropped now. “He said they were still concerned about the situation on Lion’s Head on the Sea Point side, from Glengariff Road up to the crest of Signal Hill. “And the fire has crested the top of the mountain – we hope the wind doesn’t change to a northerly, because then it could go over towards Newlands. But we do have resources on top. “Meanwhile the Weather Office was predicting a strong southerly today, with a high of 30*C. The Table Mountain fire was just one of three battled by more than 550 firefighters last night – others broke out in Melkbosstrand and Ocean View. In the upper residential streets of Oranjezict, especially Rugby and Bridle roads, houses were evacuated and people stood watching as the flames swept closer. Anxious residents watered down their roofs and gardens to keep the fire at bay. Otehrs used buckets and garden hoses to douse flames. Three German tourists trapped on the mountain by the flames spent the night in a hut on the mountain…and at Melkbosstrand, the fire that broke out along the R27 in Table View and spread towars Malmesbury was extinguished early today.