‘People were walking around in a daze ...

At first I was wary of going across from Cape St Francis (Seal Point) to the fires at St Francis Bay because I didn’t want to get in the way of firefighters. Anyone who has seen a big team dealing with a strong fire knows they will trample all over you if you are in their way.

Then the NSRI put a call out on social media that they needed all the assistance they could get and I hurried over.

I ended up fighting fire at a bunch of housing units. All we could do is help with the hoses and pumps and help get the firefighting vehicles in and out.

We all fought hard in the howling wind, and we lost three units. They burned down in front of us, with the fire jumping upwind, against the gale-force westerly.

There were fire-fighting teams from all over the area as well as local NSRI and volunteers like myself working in the dark, with the only light the orange glow from the fires.

There was a lot of shouting and some tense moments when a big chunk of roof would collapse and send plumes of burning thatch straight towards us, or when someone holding a hose would disappear for long seconds in the smoke swirls.

Sandwiches and water were being brought in and offered around, and there were people watching closely. If a section of thatch looked like it was going to come down, they would shout and warn people on the ground.

Burning thatch works weirdly. It burns and then starts sliding down and igniting more and then it slides off the roof and creates a massive cloud of fire and smoke and hot ash swirling in the sky, looking for a place to attach to.

Yesterday morning I got to the scene early. People were walking around in a daze. Some were sifting through the remains, some taking photographs, but most just standing around in shock. A few were shedding tears, and a number of houses were smouldering.

Most of the insides of the houses seemed to have vapourised. There was nothing left of most of the houses but walls and rubble.

St Francis Bay and Cape St Francis is a strong community, but the area has been under strain recently, with severe flooding coupled with being ignored by local government.

The bridge hasn’t been properly repaired in two years and has washed away three times, many of the roads are impossible to drive on due to potholes.

The local people will band together. The support from the outside has been overwhelming as well. Donations from industries and individuals have been forthcoming.

There are plenty of good people around, and the warmth and generosity has been amazing to witness.


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