It was a fiery end to the successful Jaguar Simola Hillclimb when six specialist high-performance cars were gutted while being transported to Cape Town yesterday morning.
The cars, some of them one-of-a-kind models, caught alight on the back of a car carrier travelling on the N2 between Sedgefield and Buffalo Bay at about 10.30am.
The blaze quickly engulfed the modified racing cars and at least one classic car.
Event organisers described the fire as a disaster, saying some of the cars were irreplaceable.
The cars were being ferried to Cape Town after the eighth annual Hillclimb in Knysna at the weekend, which attracted 15 000 car enthusiasts and included multiple circuit racing and rally champions, motoring celebrities and international guest drivers.
Car carrier driver Wynand Deyzel said he got the fright of his life when he spotted the smoke in the vehicle’s rearview mirror.
“It was coming from one of the cars on the top [section of the carrier]. It spread so quickly,” he said.
“I slammed on brakes and ran to release the cars at the bottom, but the fire spread so quickly.
“I used a fire extinguisher but it didn’t even slow the fire down, they [cars] just went up in flames.”
Deyzel said the faster he worked to try to free the cars, the quicker the blaze spread.
“The cars are fibreglass so the fire spread so flipping fast,” he said.
“The fire jumped from car to car while I was trying everything to put it out.
“I just couldn’t, the fire was out of control.”
Deyzel said he did not know what could have caused the fire. “It started out of nowhere.
“There are forensic experts who are looking into this now to determine what could have caused it,” he said.
Knysna police spokesman Sergeant Chris Spies said no foul play was suspected.
South African rally champion Enzo Kuun, who finished second on the podium at Sunday’s event in the modified saloon cars class and whose car was gutted in the fire, said he was devastated.
“It is really a big loss to all of us,” he said.
“Those cars are fitted with such a lot of safety equipment that I also want to know how the fire started.
“It is a loss for all the owners of the cars, both financially and emotionally.
“I had my car for about three years and it has such sentimental value. I lost a piece of my heart with that car.
“This is really a sad day after such a great weekend.” Kuun estimated the value of each car to be in the region of about R400 000.
“It is vital for them [investigators] to determine what caused this fire,” he said.
Jaguar Simola Hillclimb founder and event organiser Knysna Speed Festival managing director Ian Shrosbree said: “After the resounding success of the last three days, when each of the participating vehicles becomes part of the essence of the competition, this disaster impacts on us all.
“The loss of complete vehicles – some of them one-of-a-kind and literally irreplaceable – and the damage to others, cannot be quantified.
“It is much, much more than just the value of what has gone up in flames.”
Shrosbree declined to put a value to the vehicles. “The cause of the fire is unclear at this stage, but will be investigated,” he said.