Countryside reduced to ash and ruin

Western Cape

Cederberg - A massive fire in the area between Clanwilliam and Wupperthal is beginning to die out. But the flames, which have been tearing through the arid countryside for almost 10 days, have killed a man, destroyed homes and farming equipment, and left almost 500 square kilometres of land in ruin.

According to reports, Christo Fourie, the retired FNB bank manager in Clanwilliam, had been helping fight the fire. He went missing on Wednesday and his body was found on Thursday in the charred veld near his vehicle.

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130124. Clanwilliam. A burned out tractor on Bennet O Connel's tea and cattle farm at the foot of the Pakhuis Pas near Clanwilliam. Fires lasting for the last 10 days now have been destroying everything that comes in its way. Picture Henk Kruger/Cape Argus130124. Clanwilliam. A landscape seen from Pakhuis Pas near Clanwilliam after a 10 day long fire.Picture Henk Kruger/Cape Argus

Police spokesman Andre Traut said Fourie had been caught in the fire, but the exact circumstances of his death were still being investigated.

About 30 people staying in the luxury Bushmanskloof resort were evacuated on Wednesday night, but the lodge was saved.

The inferno began last Wednesday after a lightning strike in high-lying Heuningvlei.

Since then the fire has burned in a massive circle south to the Pakhuis Pass.

On Wednesday evening, a strong wind swept through the area causing flames to spread at incredible speeds.

Di Mohr, who was staying in Klein Pakhuis Pass, a trust-owned getaway of houses and cottages near near Clanwilliam, said she saw the flames advancing on the property on Tuesday night, but by then it was too late to flee.

By Wednesday afternoon the fire was on her doorstep.

Her sons, Nick and Craig, seven-year-old twins, got onto the roof of their thatched home and began spraying it with water.

Mohr said firefighters and farmworkers banded together to save the property.

But the main house on site was quickly swallowed by flames on Wednesday night.

“Firefighters still ran in to try and save whatever valuables they could before the roof came down,” she said.

Mohr said the night was filled with the loud bangs of gas canisters exploding inside, but her converted barn was saved.

“I just have to say that it’s the farmworkers and the firefighters who are the real heroes here,” she said. “They all put their lives on the line and worked through the night to help us.”

Three of the cottages in the resort along the hills were also destroyed by the flames.

Robert Beruatzeder, a Capetonian who owned one of the cottages, said it was completely unsalvageable.

When Beruatzeder heard about the fire he had rushed up to the resort to try and save his property, but when he arrived he found it in smouldering ruins.

Justin Hyland said when he arrived on Wednesday night to try and rescue his cottage, the landscape was just a field of flames. But his cottage, which was surrounded by fire, had miraculously survived the blaze.

Bennet O’Connel, who runs a rooibos tea and cattle farm in Pakhuis Pass, said he had been up for two days fighting the blaze.

On Wednesday evening the fire spread at alarming speeds and he found his farm surrounded by a wall of four-metre-high flames.

“I knew there wasn’t really much I could do, so I helped where I could,” he said.

After the flames finally subsided, O’Connel was left with a yard full of scorched farming equipment. On Thursday, he said he was too tired to even assess the damage, but he knew it was going to cost him a fortune.

O’Connel said that on Tuesday last week a lightning strike near his farm had caused some dry plants to burst into flames, but with the help of nearby farmers and farmworkers the fire was contained.

However, it had evidently flared up again.

Koos Jantjies a local farmworker, said he had spent the whole night fighting the fire.

Colin Deiner, chief director of disaster management and fire services for the Western Cape, said a total of five properties were destroyed in the 10-day long blaze.

“It was a difficult fire to contain because of its size,” he said.

But he added that the problem was compounded by the fact that fire services had been stretched by the recent farmworkers’ strikes in De Doorns.

Disaster services would continue to monitor the area for any signs of the fire spreading again.

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Cape Argus, with additional reporting by the Cape Times

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