The past two weeks towards the end of October 2018 we saw some hectic raging wild fires in the Garden Route. The once green belt of South Africa, known as the luscious Garden Route, was turned into a black belt – no, that is not a karate black belt, but burnt black by a fire monster.
The raging fires did not leave a green inkling in its wake. Everything was devoured by flames and hot air. Now they say it is good for fynbos to burn once in a while, and I agree to that, but not like the wild fires that devoured thousands of hectares of plantation and indigenous forests which were home to century old Yellowwoods..
Our region, renowned for crisp mountain air and clean beaches was covered in a haze of smothering smoke. The smoke followed you everyone – in your house, in your bed, in your car, in your clothes, in your office, in your nose. Even our animals were agitated and irritated and developed some serious itchy skin problems and to be kept inside to calm them down.
During night there was the ever present reflection of the flames present on our beloved mountains. During the day the sun was shining, but on some days it could just not break through the thick layer of smoke hanging in the region. The national highway (the N2) linking Cape Town with Port Elizabeth was sporadically closed as the fire encroached on the roads edge and putting villages and even a petrol station in danger. The wild fires raged over a distance of 240 kilometres from East to West.
Everyone was on high alert and ready to assist a friend or neighbour or some unknown person in distress. Thousands of liters of water, food and eye drops were donated to the firemen who arrived from various provinces of South African to help to fight the fire monster. The buzzing of helicopters and fixed wing spotter planes became the norm of the day when visibility allowed them to fly. Together we mourned when a legendary pilot died in an unfortunate helicopter accident while performing his duties. We salute you Nico Heyns!
Unlike Spain and California, wild fires of this nature is unknown in South Africa. A total of 100 000 hectares were destroyed. We also lost a national heritage site in the process, but already plans are made for some fundraising to restore the grand old toll house in the Montagu Pass to its former glory. She will rise again from the ashes.
Driving the famous seven passes to see the impact of the fire, it feels like entering a moon landscape. I was astounded to see the ferocity and intensity of the wild fire – there was no vegetation left – no indication that there were once tall trees and lush green vegetation filled with proteas in the bloom. Only then did I realize the mammoth task the fire fighter teams were presented with to contain it and to prevent it from spreading into town.
All that I can say is a HUGE THANK YOU to each and everyone in the community, volunteers and professional firefighters who stood together to save our precious town and region. We will rise again!