Shells of St Francis resemble movie set

Cape Town - Driving through Humansdorp to St Francis Bay, a holiday beach town, everything seems to be in order.

It is around 6pm and people are rushing about - going to the shops or waiting for a taxi. But in St Francis Bay there is a different atmosphere. Husbands, with their wives and children, drive slowly through the streets surveying the devastation wrought by Sunday’s intense fire.

The aftermath of the fire that ripped through St Francis Bay. Photo: Henk Kruger. Credit: INLSA

A “Jislaaik” here or an “Oh, my word” there can be heard as people take in the destruction.

We drive into a cul-de-sac and the disbelief slowly sets in. “It looks like a movie set,” says photographer Henk Kruger.

The ruins before us do resemble a movie set and seem surreal. Shells of what used to be double-or triple-storey luxury homes look like paintings, set on green lawns.

Families gather to take pictures - shaking their heads at the sight of boat hulls turned to charcoal and car frames parked in burnt-out garages.

A middle-aged man in khaki shorts said that thatched or tiled black roofs and white walls were stipulated when that part of the town was founded.

Further along near the jetty on the canal people gather in groups. The fire appears to have been selective here - a cluster of six adjacent houses destroyed, while a seventh house appears untouched, three more houses ravaged and an 11th house stands intact. The flames “jumped”, according to locals.

“There will be a lot of survivors’ guilt here,” said one man who recently bought a holiday home in Jeffreys Bay.

“I am sure people whose houses weren’t touched probably feel bad,” he said. His wife who was taking pictures became emotional.

“It is in the little details,” she said. “Look, here’s someone’s braai ‘skottel’ and their personal things - people had homes here.”

Two days after the fire locals remain rattled by the events of the weekend, telling heroic stories of how they swam across the canal to try to salvage items. As assessors arrived many holiday-makers had yet to see the ruins in place of happy memories.