Fires wreak havoc in metro

Fires wreak havoc in metro

13 August 2008

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South Africa — Runaway fires in Nelson Mandela Bay left at least 22 families homeless yesterday and destroyed vast tracts of vegetation.

Fanned by dry, hot and windy conditions, at least 10 fires raged in the metro.

Most were brought under control by late yesterday after seven fire engines were dispatched.

Vast tracts of indigenous vegetation were also destroyed in the Addo Elephant National Park.

A fire at Chris Hani township near Struandale in Port Elizabeth razed 18 shacks, housing 22 families. Police spokesman Inspector Hazel Mqala said no one was injured, but many were left homeless. Other fires raged in Kwanoxolo township, the area between Gedulds River and St Albans, as well as Colleen Glen, Elands River, Bushy Park, Greenbushes and Happy Valley.

The Chris Hani shack fire is believed to have started at a nearby dumpsite where people were burning refuse. A spark ignited the blaze, which took three fire engines to extinguish.

Nopinki Nkohla, whose shack was the first to catch fire, said: “I was asleep after working the night shift.

“A neighbour woke me and alerted me to the fire. He said I must look behind my shack in my toilet and I saw that the fire had started.

“I called out for help and tried to put the fire out. Next thing I know, the fire spread to the rest of the shack.

Everything burnt down, even my food. I have lived here for seven years and I don‘t know what I am going to do.

“Where will I find money to buy material to build another shack? The community needs help with housing so that we can have proper shelter.”

Nomhle Mzileni was also asleep when a neighbour yelled her shack was on fire.

“When I went outside, I saw this black smoke and we ran to the first shack that caught fire. I didn‘t think that the fire would spread to other shacks.”

“My shack is the fifth shack and it also caught fire. When I realised that the fire was at the third shack, I ran home and grabbed what I could. I left my child with a friend so that I could be able to carry some of my belongings outside. We managed to take some appliances and a few clothes and that was all we could get.”

Mzileni said she was worried about the future as she didn‘t know what she was going to do. “I am new in this area and don‘t know a lot of people around here. I am hoping for some sort of miracle that will save me.”

Most residents blamed the fact that they did not have proper housing.

Nosakhele Nzatha, who has lived in the area since 1993, said: “We were promised proper houses. None of this would have happened if we had houses, not shacks.

“I don‘t know what we will do for shelter. Even going to some hall will only be temporary.

“I wish the housing department would hear our pleas.”

Mqala, who said the fire was not the first in the area, added: “Five babies died in separate incidents in this community the same year due to fire. I hope the housing department would see to it that people from this community will get housing.”

Meanwhile, Addo rangers have their hands full monitoring a veld fire that has been raging since Sunday. Park spokesman Megan Taplin said the fire flared in the northern area of the park in the vicinity of the Zuurberg.

The blaze has destroyed vast areas of indigenous vegetation, and Taplin added that small animals like tortoises might have been killed or injured.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, but Taplin believes that hot, dry and windy conditions in the area over the last couple of days played a role.

“We are monitoring the fire closely to ensure that it does not put anyone in danger or damage any infrastructure,” until it had burnt itself out, Taplin added.

The fire apparently came close to the historic Zuurberg Hotel, but rangers managed to prevent it from causing any damage.

The owner of the hotel, Henri Alant, confirmed the incident and added that the park was quick to assist.

Because of relatively strong wind in the area, the local disaster management team and fire department are also keeping a close eye on things.

The South African Weather Service said hot, windy conditions would persist in most parts of the Eastern Cape today.

Cooler conditions and rain are forecast for the region from tomorrow.

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