Hotel destroyed in Somerset West fire

2011-04-17 17:52
Cape Town - The operator of a Somerset West hotel which burnt down on Saturday when a veld fire raged out of control, says all he could save was the office computer.

The Straightway Head Hotel was still smouldering on Sunday morning.

Gary Pinchen told News24 he also managed to close the gas valves and switch off the power before the flames engulfed the hotel at about 09:00.

The flames jumped from a thatched roof house next to the hotel. Only two units remain of the whole complex.

The fire spread so quickly that most of the extinguishers could not be used and still hang on the walls on their hooks...blackened and charred like the rest of the building. 

Here and there in the wrecked remains a picture still hangs on a wall.

Staff who lived on the property lost everything.

Residents of Somerset West say the fire started as a long line of flames near the Helderberg Nature Reserve, suggesting it was some sort of planned fire.

With the up to 60 km/h wind which was blowing at the time, it quickly spread out of control destroying 15 houses in addition to the Straightway, which was built in 1939.

Still burning

The fire was blown over the mountain and is threatening the Hidden Valley farm area on Sunday afternoon.

There are hot spots all over the mountain, but fortunately the wind has died down.

A group of 9 and 10 year old boys who were hiking in the kloof above the nature reserve on Saturday morning had the rather harrowing experience of being surrounded by flames and smoke at one stage.

During their escape two of the boys got lost and separated from the main group but fortunately managed to join them later.

The fire services escorted them off the mountain.

A mother of two of the boys later brought them to see the helicopters in action and told the story to bystanders. The incident could not be confirmed by the police.

Late on Saturday afternoon the fire raged so widely and was being fanned so violently by the high winds that emergency services asked off duty staff from all over the Peninsula and also from the district services to come in to help.

Three helicopters from Working on Fire with their spotter plane assisted units on the ground from the City of Cape Town, Boland District Fire and other services.

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