Firefighters battle flames engulfing the University of Cape Town library and the Special Collections library on Sunday. The runaway blaze, which started on Table Mountain, also engulfed the Rhodes Memorial restaurant and Mostert Mill, which was built in 1796 and was the oldest surviving working windmill in SA. Picture: MIKE HUTCHINGS/REUTERS
Firefighters battle flames engulfing the University of Cape Town library and the Special Collections library on Sunday. The runaway blaze, which started on Table Mountain, also engulfed the Rhodes Memorial restaurant and Mostert Mill, which was built in 1796 and was the oldest surviving working windmill in SA. Picture: MIKE HUTCHINGS/REUTERS

Firefighters battled a runaway fire on Sunday that engulfed the Rhodes Memorial restaurant and parts of the University of Cape Town (UCT), including the Special Collections library.

UCT vice-chancellor Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng announced the suspension of academic activities. In a communique to students and staff, Phakeng hoped that the campus community was “safe and well under these frightening circumstances”. 

Two firefighters were reported killed in the blaze.

SANParks Table Mountain National Park urged all hikers within the Newlands and Rhodes Memorial area to urgently evacuate the area and move any cars parked there.

“The fire is currently out of control and we request that all onlookers please refrain from entering the area and keep the area clear for emergency vehicles to pass,” it said in a statement.

The blaze also destroyed Mostert Mill, which was built in 1796 and was the oldest surviving working windmill in SA. 

According to the UCT website, the Special Collections library consists of printed and audiovisual materials on African studies and a wide array of other specialised subjects, as well as over 1,300 sub-collections of unique manuscripts and personal papers. The collection of books and pamphlets exceeds 85,000 items on African studies alone. It is understood that some material has been captured digitally.

Cape Town's disaster risk spokesperson, Charlotte Powell, said the city had not called on any residents to evacuate.

“The situation is being monitored and staff will go door to door in the event that evacuation is required. For now, residents are advised to keep doors and windows closed to manage the impact of smoke caused by the fire.”

Two firefighters have been hospitalised for burns after a runaway blaze engulfed the Rhodes Memorial restaurant and parts of the University of Cape Town on April 18 2021.

Several videos have emerged of the speed at which the fire, compounded by wind, is spreading.

One of the videos shared on social media is from a cyclist who described the overpowering heat he felt as he was standing metres away from the blaze.

Athlete Lisette Lombard posted a video of herself saying that she was trying to “outrun” the blaze, but had seemingly lost her car to the fire. “I am trying to outrun the fire. I think my car just got burnt at Rhodes Memorial. It's spreading like wildfire.”

Many users took to social media to express support for the work of firefighting crews from the City of Cape Town, Working on Fire and Table Mountain National Park who have been battling to put out the blaze.

Some have encouraged members of the public to drop off essential items for the crews at various fire stations.

Update: April 18 2021
This story has been updated with new information.

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