Residents lose all in blaze

2008-09-17 00:00

Ten families lost their homes and livestock when a runaway fire burnt about 970 hectares belonging to the Sierra Ranch Hotel outside Mooi River.

The blaze was an “uncontrolled fire that got away” said local farmer Craig Pickering, who lost a two bedroom cottage on his Waterhoek Guest Farm.

While guesthouses at Sierra Ranch escaped the flames, many residents on the property were left with only the clothes they were wearing.

The fire started on a neighbouring farm on Monday and spread to the hotel property at midday on Tuesday. Residents said it proved difficult to control, and described how they tried to fight the fire, but had to abandon their efforts and run to safety.

“The fire started on the other side of the [Mooi] river on Monday morning, but was extinguished that evening.

“Yesterday it flared up again, but we never thought it would be able to cross the river,” said Sierra Ranch duty manager Sibusiso Ziqubu.

During the morning, a strong wind came up which fanned the fire, and the huge flames jumped the river.

“I saw flames flying over the homesteads. This was a thick [wattle] forest, but now it has been virtually denuded,” said Ziqubu, pointing to the blackened trees.

A resident inside the hotel property, Ntombiyomusa Dladla (42), said she and her three-year-old child battled to get out of their house as it was being engulfed by the fire.

“I noticed thick smoke around my house and when I opened the door I saw flames. I grabbed my three-year-old child and ran away,” said Dladla, who lost everything.

Many cattle, which were feeding in the middle of the dense forest, could not escape the fire. The Witness saw burnt carcasses of animals, including calves, whose bones had been reduced to ash.

Hotel workers who were assigned to fight the fire had to abandon a tractor with a water bowser, leaving it to burn.

Sierra Ranch Hotel general manager Natali Wilton said some of the hotel guests were moved to safer rooms as the hotel had thick smoke inside, and fire was threatening to engulf the buildings.

Most of the residents who live on the hotel property lost their identity documents. Children, the disabled and the elderly who collect grants will have to start all over again and re-apply for their documents.

Said Meti Mchunu: “I lost everything and my grandchildren lost the papers which they need to collect their grants.

“They didn’t go to school because their school books and uniforms were destroyed.”

She is due to get her next grant on October 1.

Government departments and businesses had started to provide help to the victims by Tuesday night.

bhans@witness.co.za

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