The massive fires that have been raging through Nelson Mandela Bay for the past week have been brought under control.
This is according to Gift of the Givers' Ali Sablay, who spoke to Express this morning, December 4.
"All credit is due to the fire department, the Gift of the Givers teams and the communities. Yesterday was a very critical day and we were putting out fires that could have spread but they were all brought under control. There are just small flare ups here and there which community members are putting out themselves," he said.
"Currently at this stage we do not foresee any big fires reoccurring as all the main fires have been waterbombed and the helicopters have also been deployed to areas where there were flare ups so everything at the moment is under control," he added.
Gift of the Givers founder, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, said that preventive action has averted a Knysna-like catastrophe in the Bay.
He explained that the setting was very similar: drought, dry vegetation, alien plants, strong winds and water restrictions. The devastation, loss of homes and personal possessions, cost to insurance companies, damage to tourism, the economy and the environment were astronomical; pets, livestock and animals in the wild were hungry, and 22 million bees perished. The rapid evacuation from homes and from Knysna Hospital, the risk to institutions of care, the anxiety and anguish, the psychological and emotional trauma. No one wanted a repeat of this five years later.
Sooliman gave credit to acting fire chief, Wayne Hendricks, who made that all important call to Gift of the Givers on Tuesday, November 29 in the afternoon, saying: "My firefighters are exhausted, they need nutrition and liquids, our fire trucks cannot access the fire which is spreading in all parts of the city. Beachview, Seaview and Baywest are burning. The water source is too far from the fire trucks, the wind is unabating, we are not going to cope."
Sooliman said that in essence, Nelson Mandela Bay was in serious trouble.
"The intervention had to be fast, efficient and decisive. The voice of Garth Sampson, the Weather Guru, was crucial in giving us up to date feedback on the wind speeds and gusts. Time was against us, this fire was going to spread aggressively. Our teams arrived from East London the same evening and meals, liquids, Eye Gene, energy drinks and support for the firefighters were on hand. By 01:00 we were assisting with the evacuation of 2000 residents from Seaview Informal Settlement to a community hall providing mattresses, blankets, hot meals and the essentials," he explained.
"Wednesday morning at first light two Huey helicopters and a spotter plane, funded by Gift of the Givers, departed from Stellenbosch. Waterbombing from the air was going to be critical. Added to this we sent in our two water tankers to support the fire trucks, modified the fittings at seven of our boreholes (we drilled 45 in the city) to provide water closer to the fire trucks, to our water tankers and the myriad volunteers using water tanks on their bakkies.
"By Thursday we sent in 30 additional firefighters and a waterbomber plane, engineers and additional pilots, to augment the Hueys. On Friday we added an additional waterbomber plane, our aircraft releasing 8 400L per flight. Baywest shopping mall, Moffett Express Mall, housing complexes, a sports facility, schools, built up industrial centres and electrical substations were saved just in time. Seaview, Beachview, Sunridge, Fairview, Greenbushes, Baakens and many other areas were waterbombed continuously and together with the city's firefighters, help from our volunteer firefighters, sourced from Working on Fire, residents, companies, and good Samaritans, the fires were brought under control," he said.
Sooliman gave special thanks to Nelson Mandela Bay mayor, Retief Odendaal, his team, the municipality, Wayne Hendricks, the firefighters, SAPS, Working on Fire, the citizens of the city and the media, for everyone's participation.
"Collectively, we proved that participating together as a nation, we build our country ourselves. The country does not belong to the government, it belongs to the people of South Africa. The intervention in Gqeberha is a living example."