Forest and Bushfires in the Western Cape Region / South Africa; 12 March 2001


Forest and Bushfires in the Western CapeRegion/South Africa

29 November 2001

Independent Online:
Chopper rescues hikers from wildfire, By Monde Dlakavu and John Yeld 
Two adult hikers and a nine-year-old boy were plucked out of a raging inferno and airlifted to safety from the Kleinriviers mountain behind Hermanus in the Western Cape. The fire is now moving towards Hermanus, but is said to be under control. Several houses in the Voelklip area below the mountain had been evacuated as a  precautionary measure. A Skymed helicopter rescued the woman, her young son and a male family friend who were surrounded by fire and searing heat in the Vogelgat private nature reserve. The trio, believed to be from KwaZulu-Natal, were reportedly  unharmed. Helicopter pilot Gustav Arndt said conditions were bad and the strong winds had made the rescue extremely difficult. 
“We responded to the call at about 2.40pm and it took us about 15 minutes to get the family out of danger,” he said. They first rescued the woman and boy and then went back for the man, who had waited with a paramedic. Overberg fire chief Reinald Geldenhuys said the fire had started on Monday as nature conservation officials burnt alien vegetation close to the Hermanus dumping site along the R43.
“The fire was put out and guarded throughout the night but the wind came up the net day and there was a flare-up. 
“Unfortunately, the fire jumped the road and is now moving towards Hermanus.” This was confirmed by Chris Martens, Cape Nature Conservation’s area manager for Overberg, who said they had been doing a controlled management burn on Monday, which was a “green”, or safe, day for fires. 
“We guarded it for nearly 24 hours, but unfortunately it flared up again yesterday just after we’d changed the teams, and it crept into stacks (of cleared alien vegetation) and then jumped the road.” Geldenhuys said about 60 municipal firefighters worked through the night to fight the flames on top of the mountain. 
“We’ll be dispatching three more teams today and possibly some helicopters but at the moment things are under control,” said Geldenhuys. The wind was east-south-easterly, driving the fire slowly towards Hermanus Heights. “That’s like the Constantia of Hermanus. But we have it under control.” Before sunset on Tuesday, all residential areas below the mountain were blackened by thick black smoke. People were sheltering in their homes, but some peered through windows at the fire and smoke. Geldenhuys said some houses in the Voelklip residential area had been evacuated. Guy Preston, national leader of the Working for Water programme of the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, which co-ordinates the clearing of invading alien vegetation – Cape Nature Conservation is its agent in the Western Cape – said they would investigate the circumstances of the fire. He had been told that no property was in danger at present. Preston said the presence of invading alien plants “massively” increased the problems of fire in nature areas like Hermanus. “They burn with a 10-fold intensity compared to fynbos, which also severely damages the soil and can cause major flooding and soil slippage problems later,” he said. “And the irony is that we’ve been spending enormous amounts of money in Hermanus to control these invading alien plants which are a massive fire threat to the area, as well as using up enormous amounts of water.” 

Published on the Web by IOL, 28 November 2001

For more information on fires in South Africa: See contributions in International Forest Fire News (IFFN): South Africa

See also the South Africa Photo Archive.


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