Somerset West taking stock after devastating fire

2011-04-17 22:59
Cape Town - Blackened walls of fire-destroyed luxury homes and charred stubble where fynbos used to be.

This bore testimony on Sunday to the fire which raged at the foot of and along the Helderberg Mountains at Somerset West over the weekend.

The veld fire, which started near the Helderberg Nature Reserve at about 08:00 on Saturday, was fanned by a 60km/h southeasterly wind. 

It was only brought under control on Sunday.

However, the fire has since moved towards Stellenbosch.

Eleven properties, most of them houses, were razed or damaged. The Straighway Head Country Hotel, a four-star establishment, was also destroyed.

Just two units were left standing.

The operator of the hotel, Gary Pinchen, told News24 all he could save was the office computer.

He also managed to close the gas valves and switch off the power before the flames engulfed the hotel at about 09:00.

No braai fire

Commenting on News24, a Somerset West resident who stays near the hotel, commended the emergency services.

"It was not a little Sunday braai that got out of control.

"... The Cape Town emergency services were working 100% at all times and through their actions saved 100's of houses and a big disaster.

"There isn't a single fault or inefficiency you can blame them for and Joe public was supporting them through the night, bringing food and refreshment," said the user.

"Thank You Cape Town Mega City and citizens of Somerset West/Cape Town, for without you I would have been homeless... anywhere else in SA with compliments of the otherwise national service delivery, aka lack thereof!!"

Huge pall of smoke

Thirty homes in the nature reserve were evacuated.

The Helderberg College also had to be evacuated when huge flames bore down on the campus buildings.

Firefighters managed to put out the flames in time.

While a huge cloud of smoke hung over Somerset West on Saturday, residents of Helderberg Estate prepared for the worst.

Residents of Hillcrest Street, which borders on the nature reserve, started dousing the flames with hose pipes as the flames crept nearer, reports Michelle van der Spuy.

A resident, Nicholas Davies, says all he could do is pray for rain.

Panicking residents could be seen loading pets, mattresses, prams and washing baskets into their vehicles.

Others stood watching the advancing flames with tears in their eyes and hands over their mouths.

Off-duty firemen called

Five helicopters and more than 200 firefighters from Cape Town, Working on Fire, the nature reserve and fire stations from surrounding areas fought the runaway fire.

Off-duty firemen were also called in to help.

Residents of Somerset West also contributed to the effort - making more than a 1 000 sandwiches for the "champions" and "heroes".
 
On Sunday, bread, water cans and bottled water could be seen at the Parel Vallei High School, which also doubled as command centre for the whole emergency operation.

Twenty fire tendons and other rescue and emergency services vehicles stood at the entrance to the school.

Exhausted men and women who battled the flames throughout the night, were having a well-deserved break and meal.

On Sunday, about 100 firefighters and two helicopters, as well as a plane, were monitoring the fire.

The head of operations, Danzel Ramedies, could not say how big the area was which the fire had destroyed.

He didn't want to say what had caused the fire. 

Residents earlier said the fire started as a long line of flames near the nature reserve, suggesting it was some sort of planned fire.

No one was injured in the fire.

- Were you there? Send us your eyewitness accounts and photos

Eyewitness account on the net: Storm chasing

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