Cape Town - One of the oldest farms in the country came perilously close to being destroyed as wildfire – suspected to be the work of arsonists – raged in Stellenbosch. Walls of flame nearly engulfed the vineyards of Muratie Wine Estate, one of the oldest privately-owned wine farms in the country.
Gretha Melck, whose family owns the wine estate, stood in between vineyards and watched in horror as flames neared.
“It’s so traumatic. The farm’s been in the family for quite a while.”
The farm was established in 1685 and has been owned by the Melck family since the 1980s.
She pointed towards trees on the burning slopes above the vineyards and said: “This bush was developed into an incredible mountain bike route and now it’s just burning away. It’s worth millions.”
Melck had feared her home on the estate, which was filled with prized artwork, would catch alight and burn.
Fires burnt in the winelands for the fourth consecutive day on Friday and came to within metres of vineyards at the Muratie estate.
Two donkeys on the estate, V8 and Fink, were removed from the area as concerns about their safety mounted.
The two animals hesitantly got into a trailer as smoke blew in their direction and a firefighting helicopter whirred above.
Staff from other wine farms in the area rushed to help, using tractors and bakkies to channel water back to fire lines.
“It’s difficult to get this under control because it’s so hot and dry,” said one of the workers fighting the blaze as he directed a hose pipe to thick orange flames snaking up a tree.
“We need another tractor here,” he shouted to his colleagues as a water bombing helicopter flew overhead and dropped a load of water on to the fire.
A spotter plane and second helicopter also helped with the firefighting.
Sprinklers on the perimeter of the vineyard were switched on in an effort to prevent the flames from jumping.
Some of the workers fighting the flames stuck their heads in front of the jets of water in desperate attempts to cool down.
They returned to the fire line and had to dodge flames which licked at them as the wind direction changed.
Pleas for water and tractors were made on social media.
The Lanzerac Estate tweeted, asking people to drop off ice and food at the Delvera establishment, the joint operations centre from where food was supplied to firefighters.
Towerbosch, the restaurant at the Knorhoek Wine Estate, posted an urgent message on Facebook, saying Knorhoek needed sheets of corrugated iron to put on the restaurant’s thatch roof to prevent it from burning.
Meanwhile, the Delheim Estate cancelled its annual harvest festival, which was to have been held ton Saturday and Sunday. In a tweet the estate said: “Minimal damage to some of the vineyards, but the smoke taint will be a challenge to overcome.”
By Friday afternoon the Muratie blaze was contained, but several staff from various farms and firefighters remained at the scene dousing flames.
A team of about 30 firefighters had remained in the area in case of flare-ups