Nardus Engelbrecht / AP
A wildfire that broke out in the mountains of South Africa in early Sunday spread to the University of Cape Town, burning the school’s historic library and forcing staff and students to evacuate.
The Rhodes Memorial Fire broke out around 9 a.m. Sunday, according to Table Mountain National Park. The fire probably started from a “wandering fire”. Extreme fire danger in the area, strong winds and high temperatures contributed to the rapid spread of the fire, park officials said.
Until Monday morning, the fire remains inaccessible in certain areas, according to the city’s official Twitter account. Officials hoped efforts to extinguish the flames by helicopter would prevent it from spreading outside Cape Town. Some precautionary evacuations have begun in the suburbs of Vredehuk.
More than 100 firefighters have been sent. At least two firefighters were sent to hospital with injuries.
City officials said a 30-year-old suspect was detained Sunday for possible links to the blaze. In a statement, Cape Town officials said the suspect “was spotted by a resident who followed him with the help of his sons and the family’s dogs”.
The Jagger Library at the University of Cape Town holds more than 1,300 collections of unique manuscripts and personal documents of prominent South Africans dating back to the 18th century. The collection of books and pamphlets exceeds 85,000 for African studies alone.
“It is sad to note that property and historic buildings have been damaged by this fire,” said Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato. “It is tragic that the literary treasures have been lost in the UCT library, but I have been informed that some of the most valuable works have been saved by the rapid activation of rolling shutters.”
Private homes, restaurants and historic structures in the city, such as the 18th-century Moster Hill windmill and South Africa’s oldest surviving windmill, were also damaged by the fire.