Huge veld fires wreak havoc at top tourism spots

Huge veld fires wreak havoc at top tourism spots

2 February 2006

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Cape Town —  The “worst fire in living memory” that started in Elim continued to rage in the Overberg area last night, destroying a top guest lodge, fynbos nature reserves and threatening the coastal village of Die Kelders.

Overberg chief fire officer Reinhard Geldenhuys said the main house and four chalets of the Grootbos private nature reserve, on the R43 between Stanford and Die Kelders, had been destroyed.

He said the veld around it and its farm were badly burnt.

He could not confirm any more loss of property in the area.

After doing “a recce of the area” in a helicopter last night, Geldenhuys said the fire was still totally out of control on most fronts.

“There is still a 40km fire line.” He said the fire had moved into Die Kelders yesterday afternoon and houses at the entrance to the town were evacuated.

Residents watered down their homes, and some stayed to protect their possessions from the approaching blaze. Although the fire was burning in the bushes behind the houses, no houses were destroyed.

George Schwegler, the owner of Bella Vista Lodge, also on the R43, said he, workers, and neighbours had fought three consecutive fires from Tuesday night until 4am yesterday.

“We thought it was over and we were only putting out areas that flared up. But then the wind came up and the fire flared up again,” he said.

“The fire is stretching for more than 50 kilometres from Elim to the Gansbaai area,” a farmer in the area said.

Geldenhuys said an SABC vehicle crashed into a fire engine and two passengers had to be airlifted to hospital using one of the Air Force helicopters that were fighting the blaze.

One person had eye injuries and the other had cuts and bruises.

Martin Grooscor, owner of a wild fynbos farm, outside Die Kelders said all the farms in the area had burnt.

“It was the worst fire in living memory. It is under control as there is nothing left to burn.”

The property destroyed at Grootbos was an internationally acclaimed fivestar lodge.

Britain’s Sunday Times magazine rated Grootbos as one of the top six best small guesthouses in the world. It is renowned for its restoration of fynbos and for eco-empowerment projects.


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