Fires leave 4,000 homeless in Cape Town

Several unrelated fires ripped through informal settlements in Cape Town killing at least three people and leaving at least 4,000 homeless on New Year's Day, officials said.

"The cause of these fires has not been established, however it is alleged that they were caused by negligence by persons under the influence of alcohol," said city disaster management official Wilfred Solomons-Johannes.

Authorities battled to put out the blazes that ravaged homes in the township of Du Noon and various sections of the notorious Khayelitsha slum late Monday and early Tuesday.

Fire and rescue services -- including a helicopter -- as well as emergency medical services and law enforcement agencies were deployed to the scenes.

But they could not prevent the blaze spreading and destroying hundreds of shacks and houses, cutting electricity and forcing the closure of major nearby roads.

"The gusting wind... has fuelled the spread of these fires that made it challenging for firefighters to effect fire suppression," said Solomons-Johannes.

Disaster management teams supplied food parcels, blankets, baby packs, clothing and building material and trauma counselling to victims.

Cape Town authorities encouraged residents to take care with open flames and when using electrical devices.

The use of gas burners, candles, lamps and paraffin stoves is common in poor areas throughout South Africa.