Iconic South African Vineyards Damaged By Wildfires South African wildfires — some caused by human error — in the verdant wine region have seriously damaged one of the country's oldest vineyards.
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Iconic South African Vineyards Damaged By Wildfires

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Iconic South African Vineyards Damaged By Wildfires

Iconic South African Vineyards Damaged By Wildfires

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to South Africa where hundreds of fires have broken out in recent days around the Cape of Good Hope. So far, the fires do not appear to have claimed any lives, but the fires have been a threat to something for which the country has become well known - its vineyards and wine industry. As Peter Granitz reports, drought conditions in South Africa are exacerbating the crisis.

PETER GRANITZ, BYLINE: Tourism is big business in the Western Cape province of South Africa. It's where South Africans flock during the hot, Southern-Hemisphere summer months of December and January, fleeing to winelands, the cool air of Table Mountain and the beaches of the Cape Peninsula, which is where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet. But hot weather and strong winds have increased the amount of seasonal fires, some caused by human error.

There have been more than 625 different fires in the Cape Town region in the last seven days alone. That's nearly a third of the amount of fires that hit the region last summer, says James Styan with the Western Cape's Ministry of Environmental Affairs.

JAMES STYAN: We do expect another two to three months of these conditions, and we are very concerned about that given the severity of the season to date.

GRANITZ: There has not been any report of fire-related deaths and Styan is not sure how many acres have burned. Neighborhoods on the slopes of Table Mountain have been evacuated because of encroaching fires. And iconic vineyards, such as Vergelegen, have been damaged. Grape vines were first planted there in 1700.

Alexandra McFarlane is the head winemaker at Druk My Niet, a wine label that means pressure me not in Afrikaans. She says fire ripped through the estate earlier this week, destroying a 300-year-old farmhouse, guest cottages and the cellar that held her 2015 vintage ready for bottling. McFarlane estimates about 37 of the 50 acres of vineyards were damaged.

ALEXANDRA MCFARLANE: In terms of the harvest for 2017, it's not looking great. I think there's been a lot of heat and smoke damage and also a lot of fire damage. But - so we can only really hope for the best that we're going to be able to come out of this.

GRANITZ: The South African Weather Service does not predict any much needed rainfall in the next few days in Cape Town. For NPR News, I'm Peter Granitz in Pretoria.

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