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The fires that have ravaged through some of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s (NMMU) campuses have been contained, with the municipal and on-campus firefighters closely monitoring the situation and attending to the flare-ups.

Firefighters were attending to a fire between Link Road and the Letaba residence on North Campus, with NMMU’s Horticulture Services keeping two small fires on the reserve under control in the late afternoon. There will be continued monitoring throughout the night, with any flare-ups dealt with as they occur.

The fire is believed to have started late on Tuesday night on the piece of land adjacent to the nature reserve, running along the boundary line and into South Campus. The strong westerly winds saw the rapid spread of the fire, which came perilously close to the Protea and Sanlam Student Village residences and the new science building last night and a few others over the course of the day.

Municipal and University-contracted firefighters worked through the night in a concerted bid to contain the raging fire that had ripped through parts of the South, North and Ocean Sciences (old CSIR building) campuses. Firefighting initiatives continued throughout the day as fires flared at various parts of South and North Campus.

When the fire was seen approaching the residences at around midnight, students were evacuated and returned to their rooms once the fire had been extinguished and their physical safety guaranteed.

The safety of staff and students, as well as of the animals in the University’s care in the reserve, remain a priority and the situation will be closely monitored to guarantee this.

A decision was taken to cancel morning classes, while a risk assessment was under way at the affected campuses. Once the assessment deemed the fires adequately contained, classes and all other academic activity resumed in the afternoon.

The University is naturally prone to veld fires as it is based on a 720-hectare nature reserve, which has recently been exacerbated by the prevailing extreme temperatures and drought conditions.

The vast size of the University’s estate posed a challenge with regards to attempts to contain the blaze due to an apparent lack of airborne firefighting facilities in the municipality that could penetrate deep areas not easily accessible to fire engine trucks.

NMMU Vice-Chancellor Derrick Swartz said: “We are extremely worried about unprecedented fire risks – fostered by the extreme hot and dry micro-climate – to our students, staff and plants. It has also devastated large tracts of the marine reserve and displaced animals. Innovative and upgraded measures must be urgently put into place to cope with these risks in coming months.”

The University will be liaising with the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality on improving the existing firebreaks and other preventative measures.

The University is also upgrading its fire and disaster management policy and strategy to introduce new measures. These include drills, new containment provisions and looking at sourcing additional campus firefighting capabilities. Innovative measures will be explored going forward as the future could prove quite hazardous due to climate change.

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