Tears, fear, loss and despondency of George fires – how a community came together

2018-10-31 13:05
The fire engulfed parts of George. (Francois Mulder)

The fire engulfed parts of George. (Francois Mulder)

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“When we started thinking of what to pack and what to leave when the evacuation order came, it felt unreal,” says Francois Mulder, a reverend in the Blanco congregation in George in the Western Cape.

He’s known for his love of Irish rock band U2 and often uses their lyrics in his sermons. So, when he had to decided what to take in the event of an evacuation from the raging wildfires, the album title All That You Can’t Leave Behind sprang to mind.

“Pictures? Electronics? Clothes? Important documents? What’s really irreplaceable? What’s really important?

“The question is definitely rather ‘who?’ than ‘what?’. My darling [wife] Karina, my sons, Roshai and Theo, and my daughter, Marize.

“My evening picture of the fire in George’s Outeniqua Mountains is on [Afrikaans newspaper] Die Burger’s front page today [October 30, 2018].

“But with the beauty of the picture and so many other similar pictures comes the harsh reality of fear, loss and despondency felt by all in the George area,” Mulder tells YOU.

News24 reported that eight people have died in the Southern Cape fires. The fires have devastated areas near George and Knysna, destroying nearly 50 000 hectares of vegetation in the area.

Hundreds of people have been evacuated. 

READ MORE: Death toll in Southern Cape fires rises to 8, as evacuations continue

Mulder says he sent WhatsApp messages early on Monday morning to his congregation encouraging them to pray and to help where they could.

“But also telling them to let us know if they needed help themselves. Later in the morning I saw learners in the grip of anxiety and asthma attacks caused by the smoke, waiting for their parents to pick them up.

“I got a call from a hysterical mom saying they were told to evacuate, but her child was still at school. She asked us to pick him up.

“We helped my sister-in-law to evacuate – photo albums, important documents, computers and a sewing machine.

“Our former helper’s new TV and a few bags of clothing were loaded into our car’s boot and deposited at her new employer’s garage.

“Our domestic worker, her daughter and three of the neighbours’ children spent the afternoon and evening in the safety of the rectory – with Toy Story 1 to 3 on the large-screen TV,” he tells us.

PICS: Firefighting efforts continue in De Vlugt area

“The reality of it all suddenly struck me when I saw my Grade-12 son and our domestic helper walking towards our vehicle with a few bags of clothing and I could see the fear in my son’s eyes. This was just after he’d seen the first flames cresting the hills, towards our neighbourhood.

“A nurse was in tears, standing next to our car. When I comforted her, she pointed in the direction of the fire, the place where her home used to be. Suddenly I couldn’t hold back my own tears.

“Today, a day later, there’s deep gratitude in large parts of our town because it could’ve been so much worse. The faithful all over George had been praying and at 16:00 the wind changed direction and a few drops of rain started falling.

“Compared to Knysna last year, we got off fairly lightly. And the municipality is still posting updates on social media of places where the fire still poses a risk,” he says.

“I’ve once more been made aware of the fragility of human life. We think we’re so strong and that our technology and science and knowledge make us invincible. But then the might of the wind, water, fire, illness and death appears on the scene. We like to think we’re independent as a species. But then we’re rudely awakened,” he says.

“Working together in the community to help where they can, and the support and encouragement of the firefighters and relief volunteers gives me hope. We’re able to stand together as a community across various borders.”


Read more on:    george  |  fires

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