Cape Town experienced many vegetation fires in January, the closest to home being the Deer Park forest fire that damaged houses in Highlands Estate and Vredehoek and came right up to the boundary fence of Herzlia Highlands Primary.
After fighting the fire through the night in gale force winds on Monday 16 January, emergency personnel finally got the flames under control and by morning, a smoldering black mountainside was all that was left of the night before’s inferno. The resulting smoke and ash caused the campuses to be shut down the following day. In the aftermath, while the City of Cape Town investigated the cause of the fires, pupils at the three Highlands campuses started cleaning their schools. All the pupils were instructed to come to school in old clothing to begin clean-up operations. Layers of soot coated classrooms, desks, equipment and floors. Notices went out on Facebook and via the school’s emergency communications system and the whole community pulled together. “Our task now is to roll up our sleeves and get down to the job of cleaning the schools. Everything is covered in a thick layer of ash, and it is going to take a huge effort from our pupils and staff to get the buildings school-ready,” the email to parents read. In the words of head student Greg Furman “I am calling upon all students at their respective affected Herzlia campuses to fter fighting the fire through attend school tomorrow in old clothes that you do not mind getting dirty; because during first lesson we are all going to be cleaning our campuses together. This is our school and we will not let a natural break our spirit.” Furman also called on the community to bring eyedrops, food and drinks to the Herzlia High School campus where they would be donating everything collected to “the heroes that saved our school.” Director of Education Geoff Cohen said that while the fire did not damage any property, did not damage any property, there was soot everywhere and that they were assessing if the computers needed to be specially cleaned. The school pool was also badly affected. According to the City, firefighters responded to over 5000 fires between 1 November and 12 January.