Monday, 16 March 2015

Terrible Beauty leaves a Bad Taste

The fire started late at night. This is 2.00 a.m.

Two weeks ago we experienced the worst fire on our mountain in fifteen years. Four thousand hectares of bush/forest were ravaged and 13 homes burnt down. I happened (in my usual insomniac way) to be awake in the middle of that Sunday night, listening to my local radio station when concerned citizens started to phone in. By 2.30 a.m. it had climbed over the mountain due to very high winds and was approaching the area where my daughter lives. I was very anxious: they were starting to evacuate people from the Old Age Home nearby.  I wanted to phone her but was sure things would be under control. Sure enough, she told me the next day they had been evacuated at 3.00 a.m. Mercifully, the fire was prevented from entering their area and they were allowed back home the next afternoon.  The fire was only brought under control after 4 days: the winds were ferocious, the flames incredibly high and the firemen incredibly brave.  Local people rallied round with 24-hour refreshments and helped in any way they could. 450 firemen were brought in from other provinces. It was a huge effort.  Our local radio station had a phone-in and raised almost R4 million for the volunteer organizations for training and equipment. Ironically, this had an unpleasant backfire reaction in our nearby shanty towns whose shacks regularly burn, especially in winter because of knocked-over candles and parafin fires. Bitterly, they asked why was there no such fund-raising when their own settlements burned and children died.  They turned it into a racist thing: "citizens of Cape Town only care about the white people".  This is untrue: every year all kinds of organisations help in the townships and they receive the services of the very same fire services.  Some things we can't help with like the deaths. Many of these shack fires are the result of drunkenness or drug use, especially the ubiquitous tik. And are these evils not the result of unemployment, poverty and overcrowding? So many illegal immigrants cross our borders from N.Africa every day.  False documents are so easy to obtain, The Internet helps and we have many corrupt officials in our Home Affairs departments. So who's to blame for their fires? This is Africa. A thought: the cause of this fire has not yet been established - the photographs are breath-taking and awesome - one can almost understand the compunction of pyromaniacs.


  1. That is a remarkable photo. Glad your daughter did not suffer any losses.

    That is very similar to the brush fires in California. They have extended droughts and one of natural shrubs of the area, chaparral, grows and dies off leaving a dense tinder that contains a natural oil that burns fiercely. In fact the seeds are encased in a hull that will not burst open until the plant burns. Add in the Santa Anna winds and you have a real mess.

    1. Yes, we have similar plants that benefit from this kind of inferno. Unfortunately, there is lots of burnt, ashy landscape for a while. Apparently, new shoots are already sprouting.

  2. I was immediately struck by the similarities to California as well.

  3. That is one massive fire! We get fires in Northern Saskatchewan but the communities there are small. It isn't unusual however for an entire community to be evacuated to a city further south.
    I think if people want to find a reason to complain and raise race issues they will. We recently had a house fire on First Nations reserve in northern Saskatchewan where two children died. The volunteer fire fighters from the nearby town did not attend because the band had not paid their bill. In addition, the band has a fire truck of its own but cannot find volunteers among its members, and even though they receive funding the truck is just sitting there. Who is at fault? I'd say it's a culmination of many factors but it's easy to place blame on the volunteers who did not come.