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Wildfires force evacuations of South African coastal towns

A helicopter drops water as firefighters battle wildfires in Pringle Bay, near Cape Town South Africa, Tuesday, Jan. 30 2024.   -  
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South Africa

Residents were evacuated from small coastal towns near Cape Town in South Africa as wildfires swept down from surrounding mountains and burned out of control for a second day on Tuesday.

Authorities ordered a full evacuation of Pringle Bay, a coastal village popular with holidaymakers about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Cape Town. People evacuated parts of the nearby town of Betty's Bay on Monday.

Wildfires are relatively common in the mountain ranges around Cape Town and further down the coast in the South African summer, but it’s unusual for towns to be completely evacuated.

The fires began Monday and were fueled by the hot, dry weather and strong coastal winds. Annelie Rabie, mayor of the Overstrand municipality that oversees the towns, said as many as six wildfires had broken out in the area. Four had been contained or extinguished, she said, but one was heading straight for Pringle Bay.

The Overstrand council said a small number of homes had been gutted. No injuries were reported but authorities issued a 'code red,' meaning the fires presented a serious and immediate danger to people and property.

Around 95% of a nearby nature reserve had also burned, the government said.

Residents of Pringle Bay were moving to a nearby town, local authorities said, while firefighters battled to get remaining fires under control.

Helicopters were scooping up water from the ocean and dumping it on the fires, a common tactic in the region.

Wildfires have broken out in numerous parts of South Africa's Western Cape province in recent weeks, including one on the slopes of the world-famous Table Mountain overlooking Cape Town over the weekend. It was quickly brought under control.

The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment said its firefighting crews were working on wildfires in four regions of the Western Cape. One fire had been burning for nine days.

A huge fire swept across Table Mountain in 2021, causing extensive damage and taking days to put out.

The main causes of the wildfires are discarded cigarettes, people lighting cooking fires or burning debris and sometimes arson, according to the Western Cape local government. Coastal winds fan the blazes and can make them unpredictable.

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