Photo submitted by by Barry Culligan
Aorticle by Bev Mortimer
Fire-fighters remain on red alert and are still fighting fires among the houses at Cape St Francis in the Eastern Cape. It is suspected the fire was caused by a red distress flare and a case of arson has been opened with the SAPS.
Although the rains late this morning are helping to douse the flames the firemen are still hard at work. Several houses, as well as the Cape St Francis Resort, were under threat during the night, 24 January, but no houses have burnt down. This is all according to an official media release from the Kouga Municipality this morning.
Photo above: Barry Culligan
The release reveals the Kouga Fire Department has been joined by fire teams from Sarah Baartman District Municipality, Nelson Mandela Metro and Working for Fire. A team from Plettenberg Bay is on the way.
Two choppers are in the air. It cannot be said that the fire in the bushes is under control because the wind plays a big role. However, it is looking better than it did last night, the release says.
“There has been no official evacuation, but residents have been preparing to do so while others have already sought refuge elsewhere just in case. Electricity to Cape St Francis has been restored but we cannot guarantee that it will remain on, depending on what the fire does.”
The municipal release also said communication with fire-fighting staff on the ground at the fire threatening Cape St Francis has been difficult.
“People have been asking how they can help. Our biggest need is for bottled water for the firefighters. Anyone who can/want to assist, can phone the control room at 042 291 0250 or 042 200 8330.”
People have also been asked to leave water bottles and eye-gen at the St Francis Bay Golf Club and at Liquid Lines in Cape St Francis.
The rampant fire on Eskom’s nature reserve in St Francis has been burning for almost two full days but was still not under control at 8 am this morning.
Kouga’s firefighters and disaster management teams worked round the clock to extinguish fires that only fanned up again continuously by strong westerly winds. Just when announcements were made that the fire appeared to be under control, the wind, as if in angry disagreement , blew harder and the fires raged on.
Three big Metro engine fire engines were deployed from Port Elizabeth to help put the fires out last night. People from Sea Vista were in panic and most said they were too scared to go to sleep as the fire was blowing in their direction Fortunately no houses or shacks were burnt though at least one thatch roof house caught alight in Cape St Francis but these were quickly extinguish.
No human lives were lost but the amount of animals and vegetation lost to this area is horrific. At least one firefighter was taken to hospital on when he was overcome by smoke fumes.
The fire caused people to be evacuated through concerns for their safety from their homes in the St Francis Field Air Park and from parts of Cape St Francis near Dias Road. This was after the entire ridge from the airpark to Cape St Francis was ablaze with fires – see photoasecond from top taken from a chopper and submitted by Barry Culligan.
Photo above: Barry Culligan
During the day yesterday, Sunday, two Working with Water helicopters from Knysna helped to douse flames on the western side of the R330.
This road, which is the only main access road to St Francis Bay and Cape St Francis, was cordoned off late yesterday afternoon. Visitors and residents wanting to leave or enter this village had to go via the air park side road alongside the rubbish tip. However, this road became extremely unsafe when the fires raged on the ridge and this escape or entry route was also closed – leaving people trapped on either side.
The St Francis Golf Club then opened its doors to as a place of shelter for people who had nowhere to go. The management team found accommodation for them and they were fed and given refreshments.There were many offers of free beds by local B&Bs or from people with space oor with garden flats or cottages.
Other offers of help poured in from St Francis Links and Billy’s Beach supplying water and food to the firefighters. Richard Arderne supplied 17 head torches for the fire fighters who worked through both nights to battle the blaze.
The fires lead to widespread panic not only in the St Francis area but from around the country and abroad electing messages and calls for information on the safety of their families and properties in the area.
Home owners in Cape St Francis at the entrance of the village were placed pon high alert last night and told to get ready to evacuate. The fire at 8 pm was said to be about 2kms away from the entrance the village., A Private Care Ambulance Services deployed at the Cape St Francis Resort in case of any emergency situations.
The Cape St Francis Civic Association announced that the lighthouse area was being used as an evacuation point.
The fire that was reported to be started by a flare lunchtime on 23 January, ravaged large parts of Eskom’s private nature reserve – where the fire started when a distress flare landed there – and continued burning till this morning.
Some rain during Saturday the night doused most of the flames but several fires were still burning yesterday. The wind picked up velocity and changed direction around lunch time yesterday, jumped over the provincial main access road to St Francis Bay and Cape St Francis, the R330 road, threatened houses at the St Francis Field Air Park, burnt a fence, edged close to hangars housing small private planes and helicopters before being extinguished.
The residents of this private residential estate had been evacuated and the fierce westerly wind at 7pm yesterday was still threatening to carry the flames towards the beautiful homes and the planes. A private chopper was dousing the homes at the park tonight to keep them safe. One house was doused in the nick of time before it was surrounded by flames.
Then the fire started also moving in the stronger westerly wind towards Cape St Francis. The residents of Cape St Francis could not leave the area owing to the road closure. The road was opened for a short period to allow people to leave or enter the village but then when flames suddenly appeared again alongside the road, it was re-closed. Dangerous flames caused the only other escape route around the airpark to be closed as well, effectively trapping those residents still in Cape St Francis.
There has been enormous amount of thanks and gratitude expressed on social media for the brave firefighters who fought relentlessly on with little or no sleep for long hours in their bid and sheer determination to extinguish the fires. Thanks have also been expressed to everyone who in some way helped with the fire.
The Spirt of St Francis lives on with the support and goodwill in the community, most say.
Read our first article posted on fire on Saturday 24 January :
All photos (exce3pt those indicated otherwise) by Bev Mortimer.