Brave firemen spend hours saving village from disaster
Snakes, rats and tortoises fled into a retirement village in Sappershoek as a massive fire raged in the veld along Marine Drive in Port Elizabeth yesterday, threatening homes in Schoemakerskop.
At Sappershoek, worried pensioners hauled out buckets and hoses in a desperate attempt to keep the flames away from the retirement village which, at one stage, appeared to be under threat as the fire reached its garden.
Although they were warned to be ready for evacuation, residents were later told to stand down.
The blaze, which covered a vast area from Schoenmakerskop to NMMU, was still spreading last night, with Schoenmakerskop residents on tenterhooks that the flames could change direction and head their way again.
According to fire officials, the blaze was spreading towards Sardinia Bay late last night.
Metro fire department official Wayne Hendricks said emergency workers had been fighting the blaze since early in the day.
“We have about eight vehicles out there, but the fire is still spreading. We haven’t been able to cut it off,” he said.
“At this point, we don’t know how it started.
“We will be there right through the night and tomorrow [today] depending on the weather.”
Traffic along Marine Drive came to a standstill with visibility reduced to less than a metre.
Retirement village residents Ina and Stan Nixon said they had been sitting outside enjoying the warm weather when they got a strong smell of smoke.
They decided to go inside to rest and woke to the sound of a neighbour slamming their bedroom window shut.
“When we looked outside, we could not see the sea,” Ina said. “Everything was covered in thick smoke within 15 minutes.”
By then, the residents in the 21 cottages were out with buckets and hoses trying to put out the fire. Several were also moving their vehicles out of the garages, which were closest to the flames.
Ina, who described the sound of the burning bushes as scary, said she saw snakes, rats and tortoises fleeing from the bushes into the retirement village.
“I went to move the bakkie out of the garage and the noise, the sound of that fire, was travelling fast. It was very traumatic,” she said.
The ambulance service personnel were amazing, she said.
“They just came to ask if everyone was OK, to check if the residents were safe.”
It was also inspiring how everybody had worked together to stop the fire from spreading to the cottages.
“They were dousing the flames, which had jumped the fence, and the whole hedge was burning,” Ina said.
The residents eventually resorted to buckets of water as the hosepipes were too short in some cases. A resident at Seashell Lane near Sappershoek sang the praises of the weary firefighters.
“They were fantastic,” Isobel Lemmer said.
“You cannot believe the noise of that bush burning – it was crackling.
“We had been warned that we were going to be evacuated, but it never came to that.”
Traffic into Schoenmakerskop from the Marine Drive side was diverted as the fire had spread across the road.
Villagers walked around the streets as firefighters fought the flames near their houses.
Municipal spokesman Kupido Baron said the firefighters were expected to be on site for a couple of days.
“We had to deal with high flames and the wind also kept on pushing the fire forward,” he said.
“What we managed to do was to keep properties safe, even though it is a large area.