Fires raging in top South African wine region

CAPE TOWN (AFP) - South African firefighters battled on Monday to contain a runaway fire in the country's picturesque wine lands, one of several blazes raging in the Western Cape in which one person has died.

A line of nearly 17km was burning away from the top tourist destination of Franschoek, about an hour's drive from Cape Town, in the direction of nearby Paarl which lies to the north-east.

"The fire is now burning out of control, it's coming down on properties," said Mr Royston Harris, station manager of the Cape Winelands municipality fire station in Stellenbosch. "A lot of properties are in danger, lives are in danger. We're trying our best to just save wherever we can."

Farms in the area were under threat and strong winds were making conditions difficult for firefighters, he said.

Western Cape provincial coordinator of fire-fighting group Working for Fire, Ms Bianca van Biljon said 16 teams, each made up of 15 to 24 people, were fighting fires in four areas and that back-up from elsewhere in the country had been requested.

Fires were still raging in the mountainous Cederberg area after starting on Jan 17 and 25,000ha of land have been destroyed, she said.

A volunteer firefighter died last week in Clanwilliam.

The fire had spread from Franschoek in three directions, said Ms van Biljon, while there were also fires in the wine growing town of Tulbagh and the small town of Uniondale.

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