Team of hikers survive fiery encounter on ‘Inje sootie’ unscathed

2014-06-18 00:00

MEMBERS of the Eshowe Ramblers Club had a close shave at the weekend when they were almost trapped by a terrifying Berg fire during an outing at Injasuthi.

Bill Kruse was leading the club back to their camp on Sunday when they realised that a massive fire blocked their path. Kruse said the fire was fanned by gale-force winds, the flames reaching heights of between two and three metres at times.

“Common sense prevailed and we sought refuge atop a five-metre rock. We were not prepared to chance the wind direction changing and having to outrun the fire, and also decided against heading for the river due to the thick smoke in the valley and the difficulty for the two toddlers with us over rocks.”

Kruse said the party sat on the rock for almost an hour, waiting for the fire to pass. While it approached, they backburned a firebreak to help ensure their safety when the fire arrived.

Kruse said they had noticed smoke as they started their hike, but were told by Ezemvelo officers that it was a controlled burn.

He said after the fire had gone through, the ground was cold to the touch, showing how fast it had blazed past.

“It was quite a scary experience. The heat was incredible, and the soot got in our eyes and the smoke gave us sore throats.

“After what seemed an age we were able to make our way down via the normal path which was now clearly visible. Three other parties found themselves in a similar predicament, and using different tactics all made it back to camp. One lone hiker watched the flames for a while, like studying wave sets, and then took a chance and ran through. We saw him later back at camp and he was very shaken. He had taken a shower and was leaving for home.

“Two young guys from the Free State decided to head down to the river and make their way back to camp via the river … and arrived back at camp after dark, long after we did. One party consisting of four young girls and two dads only made it down well after dark.

“The fear of fire is real. You can’t control it.”

He joked that the ramblers had renamed the reserve “Inje sootie”.

“We are just very thankful and praise the Lord that none of our party nor anyone else in the camp was injured.”

He said while leaving the park on Sunday morning, the devastation caused by the fire was clear to see. “All had been destroyed in the valleys, on the slopes and on the mountain peaks. We could not help but wonder what became of the herd of about eight eland that were grazing along the path on our way up to Battle cave. Did they make it to safety? Jackal buzzards were sitting at strategic points searching for tasty morsels.”

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