Fire causes loss of the Plant Conservation Unit offices and photographic collections

19 Apr 2021 - 10:00

We are heartbroken to report that the uncontrolled fire on Table Mountain has resulted in the complete loss of the Plant Conservation Unit offices, along with irreplaceable collections of photographs.

The fire began in the morning of 18 April 2021 and escalated very quickly under rising wind conditions and an abundance of moribund vegetation beneath the pine trees at Rhodes Memorial and the University of Cape Town. The fire continued to encroach on UCT’s upper campus property, despite the best efforts from the City of Cape Town Fire and Disaster Risk Management Services.

Airborne embers from the burning pines on the west flank of UCT upper campus ignited various stands of vegetation around the campus, including a large palm tree that stood between the RW James (physics/oceanography) and HW Pearson (botany/ecology) buildings. It may have been embers from these trees that ignited Level 5 of the HW Pearson building, home of the PCU.


The PCU on fire on Sunday afternoon, 18 April 2021 (Source unknown)


Eight offices, the common room and the computer lab have been gutted, and all contents destroyed by the fire. Sad as these losses are, still worse is the destruction of irreplaceable historical photographic collections, and other unique long-term data sets and metadata. Mercifully, the palaeoecological lab appears to have survived serious damage from the fire, although the condition of the facility is still being assessed.