Fire rages through Cape Town University library

Arthur Greene

The wildfire raging down the slopes of Table Mountain has gutted Cape Town University’s Jagger Library.

The Jagger Library Reading Room, which houses tens of thousands of rare books and historic artefacts, has been completely destroyed.

Since Sunday evening, images have circulated online – first showing the flames raging through the library’s windows, then later, the charred ruins of the building’s interior.

Throughout the night, firefighters worked tirelessly to contain the spread of the fire. The Times has reported that two firefighters are currently in hospital being treated with burns.

In a statement, UCT Library executive director Ujala Satgoor said: “I write this message with a deep sense of sorrow and devastation at the loss at the havoc and devastation the fire wrought.”

The Jagger Library is home to the university’s Special Collections, which stores thousands of original artefacts of African history, including rare books, manuscripts, photographs and documents.

The scale of the damage is not yet known.

“A full assessment can only be done once the building has been declared safe,” Satgoor wrote.

“Thankfully the fire detection system in place triggered the fire shutters preventing the spread of the fire to other parts of the library.”

Mayor Dan Plato said: “It is tragic that literary treasures have been lost at the UCT library, but I have been informed that some of the most valuable works were saved by the quick activation of the fire shutters.”

Other campus buildings were also damaged by the fire. It devastated the thatch-roofed Mostert’s Mill, built in 1796, which was the country’s oldest working windmill.

The flames forced the evacuation of 4,000 students from the area.

The university’s vice-chancellor, Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng said that food and accommodation has been provided to the evacuated students.

Video source: @kimondegreef

Picture source: @werdenstephanie