#VryheidFire: A silver lining in the ashes – ‘Vryheid staan saam’

    Photo: Ronel Nigrini Facebook post.

    VRYHEID Neighbourhood Watch members responded, along with the farming community, Working on Fire, AbaQulusi Fire Department and members of the public, when initial reports came through that there was a fire raging in the Scheepersnek area on Tuesday.

    Photo: Ronel Nigrini Facebook post.

    Under the direction of farmers from the affected areas, as well as those who travelled from surrounding towns, the Neighbourhood Watch crew immediately set about formulating a plan of action, arranging a steady supply of water by reaching out to the community for assistance.

    Water tanks and ‘bakkie-sakkies’ were deployed to areas in need of assistance to douse the fast-spreading flames that engulfed Vryheid’s outlying farmland.

    Firefighting teams battled the blaze relentlessly, but the raging winds were unyielding and the fire continued to ravage the countryside.

    Also read: Utter devastation as Scheepersnek fire ravages farm

    Shortly before 5pm, it was suggested that the RTI be called in to assist with traffic control near the Landbou High School turn off as far as Stilwater, as the flames had jumped across the road and heavy smoke was causing poor visibility for motorists in the area.

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    As the audience of curious onlookers grew, the public was instructed not to gather near the fire as this created a dangerous situation and could result in an accident.

    Firefighting efforts in horrendously windy conditions were still underway at 5:25pm, when an urgent call came through requesting assistance at the home of Christo Vorster near Captain Bucks. The deadly flames were encroaching on the property and posing an imminent threat to the house.

    The fire brigade responded and managed to contain the flames with some initial difficulty in accessing the area as the fire was burning fiercely alongside the adjacent train tracks.

    Also read: Fire leaves desolate wasteland in its wake

    Meanwhile, on the Kambula road, another fire was reported shortly after 5:30pm, followed by yet another report of a house under threat from the flames between Scheepersnek and Vryheid mere minutes later.

    By 6pm the situation on the road was becoming dangerous, with traffic backing up due to poor visibility and the absence of the RTI at the scene. Vryheid Neighbourhood Watch members were called in to control the traffic at the Tea Cup.

    At approximately 7pm, a report came through of a fire near Vryheid Hospital. Both the private and provincial hospitals were investigated and it was confirmed that there was no imminent threat to either. A small fire was discovered behind Vryheid Provincial Hospital a few minutes later but was put out within minutes by members of Vryheid Neighbourhood Watch.

    Also read: Fire Department reaches out to Working on Fire

    In the interim, flames surrounded the home of a couple residing on a farm near the Stilwater area.

    “…The smallholders and farmers around here do not all do the necessary fire prevention measures,” stated a source who wishes to remain anonymous. “We did fire breaks and have many friends who have put out as much as possible. Thank Heaven, our lives have been saved because we did the much needed fire breaks.”
    “Today,” she adds, “people have died. It is so sad, but perhaps it could have been avoided, should all have been prepared… We were terrified!”

    Minutes later, a house in South Street was reported as being ablaze, but Pro5, having been out to investigate, confirmed that there was no fire.

    In another snipe-hunt, Vryheid Neighbourhood Watch members went out to investigate a report of an exploded substation at the corner of Klip and Landdrost Streets at approximately 8:10pm. The search came up negative as there was no visible damage upon inspection by those who responded.

    Almost eight hours after the firefighting began and it seemed like the situation was easing up, a fire broke out on the other side of Vryheid. At 8:53pm, another fire was gaining ground near Mpofini Game Lodge along the R34 Melmoth road. Members of Vryheid Neighbourhood Watch responded to the call for assistance and eventually managed to contain the growing sea of flames.

    By midnight, it appeared as if the disastrous inferno had been contained.

    Several of the fire fighters had stood down from the scene of the blaze when a call came through requesting further assistance at the home of Christo Vorster, which had narrowly escaped the clutches of the blaze earlier in the evening.

    An exploding diesel tank resulted in the emergence of a new fire, but this was swiftly curtailed due to the response of Vryheid Neighbourhood Watch members, who stood down when the fire brigade arrived less than thirty minutes later and managed to extinguish the fire before it did any more damage.

    Also read: ‘Buurtwag Brandweer’ saves the day

    In the wake of this utter devastation, Communications Officer for Vryheid Neighbourhood Watch, Johan van der Wath, who was one of those at the frontline of the firefighting operation on Tuesday night, has offered condolences, on behalf of Vryheid Neighbourhood Watch and the community, to all who were affected by Tuesday’s cataclysmic events.

    Van der Wath also extended gratitude to the farming community, the members of the public who assisted and dedicated members of the Watch the following day.

    “Ons word vanoggend met geswelde oë en toe neuse wakker, maar Vryheid het gister bewys dat ons, as gemeenskap, saam kan staan,” he writes. “Namens die Vryheid Buurtwag bedank ons almal vir julle bydrae ten opsigte van hulp met brande blus, water aanry na die vure, voorsiening van kospakkies en drinkgoed, ensovoorts. Weereens groot dank aan almal se insette en bydrae.”

    “Ons bid vir ons boere,” he adds. “Mag die herstel spoedig wees en die reën julle seën.”

    Working on Fire, who also played a major role in fighting the encroaching flames also had a message for the public following the disaster.

    “We urge landowners to be vigilant, to check the Fire Danger Index before starting any fires and to report any fire to the relevant authorities. Working on Fire remains on high alert across the province to assist in any fire emergencies that might occur.”

    In light of this devastating occurrence, Round Table, who also offered support to the victims of the inferno that ravaged Knysna earlier this year, has offered to step in and offer assistance to those affected by the fires.

    “We provided relief to the Knysna victims,” states Vryheid Round Table 129’s Rupert Niebuhr, “and we are willing and able to assist those affected by the Vryheid fire.”

    Vryheid Round Table 129 will serve as a drop off and collection point for those in need or those who would like to donate.

    Contact Rupert Niebuhr on 082 466 1210 or email vryheid129@linkupmail.co.za if you would like to get involved.

    Elaine Rodway

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