Monday, 31 December 2012

Hermanus fire havoc

One of 12 caravans at the Hermanus Yacht Club s camping site that were destroyed by runaway veld fires on Saturday. Picture: Courtney Africa/ Cape Times

Cape Town - About 200 people had to be evacuated from a camp site at the yacht club in Hermanus after raging fires destroyed caravans, boats and damaged a cabin over the weekend. Several properties in Stanford were also damaged.

A team of firefighters finally brought the blaze under control on Sunday after battling for six days as the fire ripped through about 20 000 hectares of fynbos in the Overstrand District.

People said the flames threatening the yacht club were several metres high and difficult to control.

Members of the Hermanus Yacht Club were picking up the pieces after the fire, fuelled by south-easterly winds up to 40km/h, ripped through 12 caravans and a house and left a wooden cabin badly damaged with the roof caving in. They were filling up water tanks and setting up water pumps preparing for possible further outbreaks.

A member of the club’s committee, Jacques Smith, said they had to evacuate about 200 people in the early hours of Saturday after strong winds had spread the fire in the club’s direction.

Smith said a number of boats that were on land were also lost. He said they received little help from the Hermanus municipality who he said told them they could not get helicopters in to help because of financial constraints. He said they had to rent a water truck and a water pump from Cape Town to battle the fire on their own.

Yacht club member Jacques Smith surveys the damage as strong winds threatened a flare-up on Sunday. Picture: COURTNEY AFRICA/ Cape Times

It was only after a fire chief from Bredasdorp had stepped in to help and get helicopters in that further damage was prevented, he said.

“Had the helicopters not come around the second time, we would have lost everything. The flames were about 20 to 30m in height and they were difficult to put out. We were running bucket chains just to prevent it from spreading,” Smith said.

It is believed the blaze started when lightning struck the Hemel en Aarde Valley on Christmas Eve and firefighters had been battling since, with 72 firefighters trying to get the fire under control.

On Sunday morning there was relief after a light drizzle quelled the fire for a few hours, but wind picked up in the afternoon leading to flare-ups.

In the afternoon it started burning on the mountain slopes overlooking the R43 and smouldering in a few areas. Barry Roe Lou, owner of the Zilvermijnbosch Estate Farm just outside Hermanus, said alien vegetation on some farms and the lack of firebreaks caused the fire to spread quicker.

He also blamed “lack of efficiency” of the fire department.

“If they had listened to the landowners the fire could have been out by Saturday morning,” Roe Lou said.

He watered an area close to his property as the changing wind direction fuelled the blaze, which was burning about 200m from his house.

Overstrand Municipality spokesperson Fanie Kruger said the firefighting teams would monitor the area along the bank of the Klein River estuary where there was “considerable” damage to property.

He said electricity supply in Gansbaai and Stanford was restored on Sunday after the fire destroyed four pylons next to the R43 on Saturday.

“The full extent of the fire damage has not been determined yet, but the indications are that apart from the estimated 20 000ha of fynbos that burnt… reports were also received that a farmhouse and a cottage burned down in the area along the lagoon,” Krige said.

He said two firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion.

Krige said they had the services of the helicopters for only six hours, at a cost of R200 000, with a large area to cover. At one stage the smoke was too thick for the helicopters to be used and he maintained that the municipality’s strategy had been well executed.

Cape Times/IOL

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