Winds wreak fire havoc
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Durban - Tinder-dry conditions and gale-force winds across the eThekwini region this week, caused massive damage.
Winds in excess of 90km/h caused spontaneous fires that, in the most serious cases, caused structural damage to a bridge on one of Durban’s busiest freeways and destroyed 100 vehicles at a local police pound.
On Friday two lanes on Hullett’s Bridge, which forms part of the M4 Inkosi Albert Luthuli (Southern) Freeway, were closed off because of a veld fire that raged out of control and set alight liquefied petroleum gas bottles at a nearby plant, resulting in an explosion.
Motorists in morning peak-hour traffic had to make their way along the freeway in poor visibility, and a major traffic backlog was caused when the metro police tried to divert traffic in the southbound lane.
Municipal spokeswoman Tozi Mthethwa said: “eThekwini Municipality’s fire and emergency services fought tirelessly to put out the fire, which also destroyed trucks and wooden pallets.”
Owing to the excessive heat and flames, the concrete structure supporting the southbound M4 freeway was threatened.
“There was structural damage to the bridge. City engineers have been tasked with assessing (it)” she said.
The M4 was closed in both directions early on Friday, but two of the four lanes going south and north have now been re-opened.
“The remaining two closed-off lanes going south will be reopened after repairs, which could take a few months,” she said, adding that no casualties had been reported.
However, a firefighter was injured when he impaled his foot on a nail.
“The fire has been extinguished, and some salvage work is being conducted,” said Mthethwa.
In Queensburgh, a fire was reported at the Blundell Road vehicle pound.
While the final extent of the damage had yet to be ascertained, metro police spokesman Senior Superintendent Eugene Msomi said 100 vehicles had been burned.
“Fortunately, most of the vehicles were up for auction,” he said.
Durban weather forecaster Wiseman Dlamini said the highest wind speed had been recorded in Durban on Thursday night – at 92km/h. Yesterday, the winds had dropped to about 64km/h.
“A gale-force wind is categorised as anything more than 70km/h,” he said.
Dlamini said the forecast for this weekend was “much better”, with wind speeds likely to be around 20 to 30km/h.
“There is no snow forecast for KZN this weekend – it’s mostly in Lesotho. Temperatures will be low, though, at around 21ºC in Durban on Saturday and 23ºC on Sunday.”
A bush blaze on the Bluff that threatened the home of Erika Marnewick on Thursday night prompted a community effort to fight a fire in Airlie Road.
“A child climbed up and put out a fire in a tree. People were running around with black dustbins full of water,” she said.
All this took place in the 90 minutes it took for the fire brigade, who had been at another blaze, to arrive.
“My neighbour, Robbie Griffin, co-ordinated the operation. He took charge, and he was great,” said Marnewick
Later an ambulance provided oxygen to people who needed it after inhaling smoke.
“The fire appeared to have been extinguished by 11pm, but at 1am it flared up again,” said Marnewick.
“Then in the morning logs were still smouldering. With the wind, we couldn’t take any risks. It was scary.
Other fires were reported in the La Mercy and Verulam areas on Friday.
Simon Thomas, KwaZulu-Natal Fire Protection Association’s operations manager – based at Shafton, near Howick – described the Midlands as being “tinder dry”.
However, he said that frost was expected over the weekend.
KZN Agricultural Union president Mike Black said there had been fires around Greytown and New Hanover earlier in the week.
Durban’s harbour was also on high alert, and vessels were advised to ensure their moorings were well secured.
Snow fell on the top of the Drakensberg, and it was also reported to have fallen in the south of the province, between Harding and Kokstad.Independent on Saturday