Port Elizabeth - A fire believed to have started in the kitchen at the Tsitsikamma Cattle Baron restaurant at Storms River Mouth left the building and the adjoining shop completely gutted by Saturday morning.
The fire, which broke out late on Friday afternoon, spread quickly and was soon out of control, sending flames and smoke high into the evening air at the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park.
The park was originally founded in 1964 and incorporates 80km of rocky coastline with spectacular sea and landscapes, valleys covered in Fynbos, forests and gorges that lead to the sea.
SA National Parks spokesperson, Nandi Mgwadlamba, said park staff had immediately responded to assist in bringing the fire under control and a helicopter had also been dispatched to prevent the fire spreading into the adjoining forest.
Mgwadlamba said the rest of the park's facilities had not been affected by the fire and people could still access the popular trail to the suspension bridge over the river mouth, which starts behind the restaurant.
"We are on site and are busy with mop-up operations. An investigation will be conducted to establish the exact cause of the fire as well as to determine the extent of the damage, but the restaurant and shop have both burnt down," she said.
Big blow to local business
Mgwadlamba said the fire was a big blow ahead of the December holiday season, as a portion of the restaurant's income was paid over to the park.
"We will, however, be looking at what temporary structures can be put in place for both the shop and the restaurant," she said.
Philip Muller, the CEO of FreshSold Farming and Agriculture, a producer of lettuce and other produce in the area, said the fire was also devastating for the local business community.
"Tsitsikamma Cattle Barons was the biggest and most popular restaurant in the community. It is a shock and loss not only for the employees and employers of Tsitsikamma Cattle Baron, but also a loss to the community and surrounding areas," he said.
Muller said FreshSold was a big supplier to the restaurant and had already planted thousands of units of produce to cater for the restaurant's peak season from November to March next year. That stock could now potentially go to waste.
Will not affect Park activities
Mgwadlamba said she did not foresee the fire having a major impact on December bookings, as the chalets in the park were self-catering. She also pointed out that the ablution facilities for day visitors, which are next to the building that burnt down, had not been damaged by the fire.
In 2007, a devastating bush fire swept through the park and set the tourist pathway to the suspension bridge alight, resulting in the lengthy closure of this popular tourist attraction.