'We don't know what happened' – relative of Southern Cape fire victims recalls chaotic evacuation

2018-10-31 23:08

The farming community Farleigh in the Southern Cape is a ghost town following a fire that claimed eight lives on Tuesday.

When News24 arrived, only the carcasses of burnt-out cars and rubble remained of the once vibrant community.

Residents were quickly evacuated and accommodated in Sedgefield Town Hall on Monday evening when a raging fire spread from a nearby mountain to the residences.

However, eight people including six children were not so lucky.

PICS: Firefighting efforts continue in De Vlugt area

Sharon Pieterson, a relative of four of the deceased, fondly remembers the Oelf children who died – Nalaya, Niah, Aliyah and Nalani.

"[Nalaya] used to play with my daughter. They went to school together," she told News24.

"They were supposed to go camping in December and my children are sad that she is no longer with us. The others were very, very small – were still in pre-school."

'I was so confused'

Pieterson, who lives on a farm close to the Farleigh area, was evacuated and moved to Sedgefield Town Hall before she discovered what had happened to her family.

"We don't know what happened. We just came out of the shop and everyone was being evacuated. Only then did we hear about the children and the grandmother who died."

Samantha Windwaai from Karatara described the chaotic evacuation scene on Monday afternoon.

"I didn't see the fire, but everything was chaotic and we were just running around. It wasn't good. A lot of our children were affected by the smoke," she said while comforting her 8-month-old daughter, Sumeya.

"I was so confused, I just jumped into a lady's car and she said let's go. Then she dropped us off at the hall."

The community of Farleigh stands empty after a fir

Fortunately, Windwaai did not lose her home in the fire but sympathises with those who have been left with nothing.

"I feel very bad in my heart. There are many people who won't have a place to sleep tonight. And there are small children whose clothing was all burned in the fire."

Call for donations

Sedgefield Town Hall currently accommodates evacuees from Beervlei, Karatara and Farleigh and provides basic needs, including grief counselling.

Many of the evacuees are current SanParks employees and former employees of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, SanParks spokesperson Nandi Mgwadlamba explained.

The conservation authority is partnering with the Knysna municipality to provide short to long-term food, accommodation and grief counselling for those affected by the fire.

"They were really shocked [when they arrived]. They are going through debriefing and counselling, which is really important," Mgwadlamba said.

"They have just seen the most incredulous fire which is just really traumatic for them. If you look at our stats, some of the information that we're are getting now shows that the fire was moving at 108km/h." 

The community of Farleigh stands empty after a fir

Mgwadlamba encouraged the broader Garden Route community to assist by making donations.

Non-perishables, clothes, blankets, pillows and shoes can be delivered to Ebb & Flow Rest Camp reception, Wilderness or the Knysna office on Thesen Island.

The community of Farleigh stands empty after a fir

The community of Farleigh stands empty after a fire claimed the lives of eight people. (Christina Pitt, News24)

The community of Farleigh stands empty after a fir
The community of Farleigh stands empty after a fire claimed the lives of eight people. (Christina Pitt, News24)

Read more on:    cape town  |  fires

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