Families flee runaway Outeniqua blaze

Families flee runaway Outeniqua blaze

23May 2005

publishedby www.iol.co.za 

Thirty families had to leave their homes and a house was burned to the ground when a runaway fire swept over the Outeniqua Pass, closing the N9, the main road between George and Oudtshoorn.

The fire, driven by winds gusting at 60km/h, had burned through Saturday night, had spread more than 50km and was being fought on three fronts, said Gerhard Otto, head of a disaster management team formed to fight the blaze.

“The fire is out of control,” he said.

“We have more than 100 firefighters out there battling the blaze, but the wind is making our task very difficult.”

‘We have a lot of people here who are doing a great job’
The wind also played havoc with flights to and from George Airport and felled a telephone pole, interrupting the Fancourt golf estate’s phone services.

No injuries had been reported by Sunday night.

“It seems this is a big one,” Overberg municipality’s fire chief, Reinard Geldenhuys, said on Sunday night.

“Firefighters have been at it since Saturday night. At 4pm today (Sunday) we sent out two units and five crew to assist.”

Otto said the crews were trying to stop the blaze at Blanco, Loerie Park and Denne-oord.

‘There is an extremely strong crosswind’
The fire had burned swaths of land near Blanco and part of a nearby plantation, where firefighters had been battling since Saturday night to bring the blaze under control.

As the blaze spread, the N9 had to be closed and traffic diverted.

Firefighting crews, fire engines and water pumps from Overberg, Eden and other municipalities in the region, as well as teams from CapeNature and Working on Fire were called out to assist.

“It looked like the fire started in the Waboomskraal area on Saturday night and from there it spread across the mountains,” Otto said.

“Teams from CapeNature and Working on Fire have provided most of the manpower and we have a lot of people here who are doing a great job. We have evacuated some families in the Blanco area simply as a precaution after one house was destroyed nearby. Families later returned.”

Jenny Bekker, Airports Company of South Africa spokesperson at George Airport, said: “There is an extremely strong crosswind that has caused four incoming flights to be diverted to Cape Town or Port Elizabeth. All 13 of our outgoing flights were cancelled.”

Fancourt duty manager Melanie Pieters said there was a lot of smoke in the area.

“The wind here is quite strong and a telephone pole has been knocked over. This has interrupted our telephone link, but none of our guests or staff has been adversely affected.”

Keith Moir, a forecaster at the weather office at Cape Town International Airport, said Sunday was the second day of hot berg wind conditions, but relief could be expected today for George and surrounding areas. “The wind will become westerly overnight and cooler weather is expected, with some rain in the afternoon.”

# Sapa reported on Monday morning that the blaze had been brought under control.


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