“We were standing on our stoep welcoming in the new year when suddenly a red flare pierced the darkness. We all watched with bated breath as it floated down into the fynbos. It was as if we and all our neighbours were holding our collective breaths, when suddenly bright orange and red flames sprang up,” relates Betty’s Bay resident and founder of the Betty’s Bay Community Group, Elke Pittersberger.
“After my heart sank into my shoes, we all jumped into action and started liaising with the fire brigade to assist in trying to douse the rapidly–spreading fire. From the start, residents and visitors jumped in to assist where they could and, ever since, the firefighting efforts have become a community project,” says Elke.
As the various firefighting units from the Overstrand Municipality, the Greater Overstrand Fire Protection Association and other volunteer firefighting organisations hurried to the scene, community members jumped into action and started collecting donations of food, water and energy drinks for the men and woman fighting the blaze in the scorching heat.
“The Crassula Hall in town quickly turned into a hive of activity as tons of donations arrived and groups of residents started delivering aid to the firefighters while others jumped in and started preparing meals. It was wonderful to see such community spirit. When there was not enough space in the kitchen to prepare meals, people sat out in the hall on the floor peeling vegetables. Some people spent countless hours in their own kitchens helping to prepare enough meals for the more than 100 firefighters and other volunteers. No task was too small for these volunteers, even the simple task of keeping the toilets clean was done regularly,” says Elke.
According to Fire Chief Lester Smith, two structures were damaged and one fire truck was destroyed after it got stuck in the soft soil of a fire break that had been dug by a digger loader. “The firefighters were battling the blaze high up in the mountain and the wind suddenly changed direction, spreading excessive heat along the ground. The tyres of the truck caught fire and there was very little we could do to save the vehicle.”
It has been reported that a Pringle Bay resident and mother of one of the firefighters died during the fire. An inquest case was registered, and a post-mortem will be conducted to determine the cause of death. At least three other people were injured.
By Tuesday, 8 January parts of the fire were still raging out of control. According to a press release from the Greater Overberg Fire Protection Association, the overnight crews reported that Cape Town City Fire prevented the spread of the fire into the Steenbras catchment area and successfully halted it from spreading further into the Kogel Bay Basin. Clarence Drive, however, remained closed and it is expected to remain closed for a few days more.
“Further good news is that the fire burned around the City of Cape Town Biodiversity Unit’s offices and homes. The top of the fire has, however, crested into another part of the Steenbras catchment area and is still burning actively. All efforts are concentrated on preventing it from spreading along the top of the mountain ranges towards the plantations (Steenbras) and the Theewaterskloof Agricultural areas.
“The fire line at the Harold Porter Botanical Garden northwards into the western sector of the Kogelberg Nature Reserve is still uncontained,” according to the press release.
Teams of firefighters above Betty’s Bay did well to contain the line in Disa Kloof but the back end of this fire line is still burning, and teams will be moved up to try and suppress it.
“An incident action plan has been drafted for critical operations in anticipation of Thursday’s wind change and the possible spread of the fire into the opposite direction,” according to the FPA.
Although fynbos is a fire-adapted vegetation, the ideal frequency for fires in the Kogelberg Nature Reserve is 17 years. Much of the fynbos that has burnt thus far is between 8 and 12 years old. The area where the fire is still burning is part of the strategic water source area and provides water for the Cape Metropole. Intense fires can decrease the rate of infiltration into the ground resulting in less run-off into the dams in the area.
A total of 120 fire fighters from Overstrand Municipality, Overberg District Municipality, FPA, Working on Fire, NCC Environmental Services, Volunteer Wildfire Services, CapeNature and City of Cape Town Fire Services are fighting the blaze. They are supported by the Cape of Good Hope SPCA, South African Police Service, Law Enforcement, Traffic Services, Wilderness Search and Rescue Western Cape and Western Cape Government Disaster Management Centre. There are 14 fire– fighting vehicles on the scene and 3 helicopters are being used.
Fire fighters in the Overberg have been on call non-stop since 25 December when a fire started in Karwyderskraal that destroyed close on 1 000 ha of fynbos.
Any donations can be dropped off at the Kleinmond Fire and Rescue offices on the corner of Buitekant and Voortrekker Streets or at Hermanus Fire and Rescue at 14 Mussel Street.
At the time of going to print it was uncertain whether the fire would be contained before the expected changes in the wind direction on Thursday. Follow our regular updates on Facebook and www.thevillagenews.co.za.