Mop-up begins as week-long wildfires devastate properties, southern cape

 Mop-up begins as week-long wildfires devastate properties, southern cape

09 September 2016

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South Africa —   Garden Route authorities have started mopping up efforts after a massive wildfire, which started in the Middle Keurbooms Conservancy near Plettenberg Bay around the 28 August 2016, swept through about 50 000 hectares of vegetation, destroyed at least two properties and saw residents and animals evacuated. The devastating blaze was only brought under control on 1 September 2016, after raging for five days, when hot and windy conditions subsided and rain started falling in the area. The fire allegedly started after berg winds wreaked havoc with what was initially a controlled burn on a private farm on 28 August 2016.

Nine people, two dogs and a cat were airlifted from this property north of Spitskop. On 29 August 2016, it became 
necessary for several fire fighting and rescue services, including Bitou, George and Eden Municipal Fire Services as well as the Southern Cape Fire Protection Association, Working on Fire, SANParks, Cape Nature and Cape Pine to respond. By 31 August 2016, the fire had spread to the Eastern Cape with a fire line of about 40 kilometres.

On 1 September 2016, several residents north of Spitskop near the Keurbooms River had to be evacuated when the fire started encroaching on their properties. “Unfortunately no help could reach them by road because of the way the fire was burning and spreading and that was when the Western Cape Health Department rescue helicopter was the best option,” spokesman for Air Mercy Services (AMS), Venessa Horn said.

The rescue crew evacuated nine people, including two children as well as two dogs and a cat. According to the Southern Cape Fire Protection Association, two houses and a barn were razed. Working on Fire spokesperson, Lauren Howard, said that as the fire spread, fire fighting efforts were bolstered by air support, including a helicopter and a spotter plane. These were, however, grounded during the course of 31 August 2016 after smoke caused visibility issues. Several fire fighters were also pulled from the field as their safety became compromised. Air resources remained grounded yesterday due to smoke.

“It was one of the most difficult fires I’ve ever dealt with. The wind direction changed every few minutes and it spread so fast. During the entire time, my motivation was that we on the ground were keeping residents safe by attempting to ensure that the fire doesn’t spread,” Crags-based fire fighter Ziyanda Mbombela said.

She was among 48 fire fighters who battled the flames since 29 August 2016. Mbombela stood down only on 1 September 2016. “We are exhausted but can rest well now, knowing that everyone is safe.”

Eden deputy fire chief, Deon van Wyk, said the fire remained under control, with several areas still smouldering. He said after a ‘fly over’ on 2 September 2016, it was however discovered that there were stills some hotspots at the De Vlugt Road and Keurbooms, towards the Crags.

“Working on Fire teams from Ladysmith and George were sent out to perform mop-up operations within the areas that are smouldering.” He said weather conditions worked in fire fighters favour over the past two days. SANParks spokesman Nandi Mgwadlamba said about 20 millimetres of rain was needed to completely douse the flames.

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