Fire watch continues on road to Schoenies

DESTRUCTIVE PATH: With large clouds of smoke in the background, scorched veld is visible in the foreground after fire, driven by strong winds, swiftly made its way through dry vegetation Picture: EUGENE COETZEE
DESTRUCTIVE PATH: With large clouds of smoke in the background, scorched veld is visible in the foreground after fire, driven by strong winds, swiftly made its way through dry vegetation
Picture: EUGENE COETZEE

Threat to homes reduced but blaze still raging in large parts of bush

Firefighters and residents along Port Elizabeth’s Marine Drive coastline kept a close eye on bush fires throughout the night as the blaze spread across a large portion of uninhabited land yesterday.

The fires, which started early on Sunday, had threatened homes in Schoenmakerskop and residents of the Sappershoek retirement village had been warned to be ready to evacuate at one stage.

However, a strong southwesterly wind pushed the fire off that course yesterday, spreading into the vast uninhabited bushy area between the village and the NMMU campus and nature reserve.

At least one fire engine and crew were expected to spend the night in the bushes next to Marine Drive, staying with a family whose small log cabin between Schoenmakerskop and the Willows resort could be in danger should the wind change direction again.

Louise Kemp, 27, who works at a pub opposite Willows, said she had started to panic in the early hours of yesterday when the wind picked up again and it seemed the fire would sweep through the bushes and destroy her family’s cabin.

“I’m pretty sure the fire might have started on Saturday night,” she said.

“I phoned my family while I was on my way home and told them to keep an eye out, because it smelt like smoke.

“On Sunday morning, we saw the fire coming from Schoenies and knew there might be trouble for us.”

This is not the first time the family has had a close call with fire.

They also had firefighters on standby at their home last year when a fire broke out in the bushes.

In that case, the wind also swept the blaze away.

“There are a lot of dry leaves and twigs lying around here so if the wind should turn now, we could be in real trouble,” Kemp said.

“Luckily, the fire crew will be spending the night here to help us if things become serious.”

Municipal spokesman Kupido Baron confirmed that firefighting teams would be on the scene throughout the night as the fire was still very far from extinguished.

“Up to now, no property has been damaged, but a vast area of bush and vegetation has been destroyed,” he said.

“Luckily, the wind was not as strong [yesterday] as it was on Sunday. Our teams will be in the area through the night and we will continuously monitor the wind direction for any changes that could endanger properties.”

At Schoenmakerskop, resident Sam Wilken, 62, was walking around the edges of the Sappershoek retirement village, looking for any embers that might have survived the firefighters’ efforts.

“Luckily, there is not much left to burn around here, so if the fire does turn back, this part of Schoenies should be safe,” he said.

“But we would have to be careful that the fire does not come past us and hit the other side of the village. “Then there could be trouble.” Wilken said he had seen a number of mostly bush rats, tortoises and snakes along the edges of the burnt bushes early yesterday, but most had fled back into the burnt vegetation surrounding the houses.

Wildline’s Arnold Slabbert said the greatest threat to wildlife in the area was alien vegetation that burnt longer and hotter than the indigenous fynbos, giving animals and reptiles less time to escape.

He said predatory birds – especially crows – could be expected in the area once the fire was extinguished as they would be looking for carcasses to feed on among the ashes.

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