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Fires sweep Western Cape

A massive fire sparked by a lightning strike may have claimed at least one life, as dozens of tourists had to be evacuated from a luxury Cape guest lodge in the Cederberg.

About 30 people had to be evacuated from Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Wellness Retreat last night, said Colin Deiner, chief director of disaster management and fire services for the Western Cape. The lodge was saved from the blaze, but at least five other structures in the area have been razed, and seven aircraft were battling the fire today.

The five-star Bushman's Kloof lodge escaped the blaze that began after a lightning strike in the Cederberg. Credit: Cape Argus

 The fire began in the Heuningvlei area – between Clanwilliam and the mission station Wupperthal – after a lightning strike last Thursday.

The fire has burned in a massive circle south to the Pakhuis Pass, and last night threatened the five-star Bushmans Kloof.

Bushmans Kloof’s general manager, James Basson, said: “The fire threatened at one point yesterday, so we acted proactively and back-burned yesterday afternoon, early evening.”

A back-burn is a pre-emptive measure which involves deliberately burning veld around key installations, like the lodge, in this instance - in a controlled manner, to prevent the veld later being burned by runaway fires.

“It worked perfectly, and we were protected when the fire started burning towards the lodge, coming down the kloof from the west. The lodge suffered no damage,” Basson said.

“The fire-fighters arrived at around 11pm and stayed all night to monitor the situation. We are very relieved,” he said.

“We believe the fire is burning towards the Biedouw Valley in the direction of Wupperthal.”

Meanwhile, the search for a missing man ended when his body was found today. It was not clear, however, if he had succumbed to the fire or had died from other causes. He had not been identified by this morning.

Deiner said the next vulnerable property was the Biedouw youth camp, located in the little valley famous for its spring flowers, on the road east towards Wupperthal.

“We have seven aircraft in the air - four fixed-wing bombers, two spotters and a chopper.

“We are working a very large area. And there are no good water sources in the area for choppers to frequently reload water, which is why we are using the fixed-wing bombers,” said Deiner.

Farmer Barry Lubbe said the fire was about two kilometres from the Biedouw Valley at 11am today. “The fire is busy burning itself out,” he said, “but the whole Pakhuis Pass is burned. It’s pitch black and looks like a moon landscape.”

Included in the burned area is the famous grave site of the celebrated poet C Louis Leipoldt, whose ashes were scattered in a cave just off the rugged pass, after his death in 1947.

At press time the fire was burning about 10km from Clanwilliam, but was not an immediate threat to the town, authorities said.

No injuries were reported.

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