Help streams in for fire victims

Lara Grundy walks through the remains of her Brenton-on-Sea home yesterday.
Picture: Riaan Marais

There was no hesitation. Just as quickly as the wildfires were spreading and destroying everything in their path, so the offers of assistance in all shapes and sizes came pouring in.

In the hours that followed the devastation which struck Knysna and other areas of the Garden Route and Eastern Cape, leaving scores homeless, hungry and cold, the flood of generous donations and offers of shelter became a heartwarming picture of the kindness of strangers in the midst of tragedy.

But for at least one who offered safe refuge, there was a harrowing twist of fate.

The owner of the razed Knysna Terrace Guesthouse, Maureen Barnard – who had taken people in – fought back tears as she rummaged through what was left of the establishment where she also lived.

“Yesterday [Wednesday] morning we were still safe,” she said.

“We were welcoming people who had lost their homes and had nowhere to go.

“Little did I know that I would be in the same position a few hours later.”

Barnard said the blaze had reached the guesthouse at about 6pm, and then utter chaos had followed.

“I was running around trying to get the guests out, and then tried to move the gas bottles to safety.

“Then I remembered I needed to find my cat. He was so stressed from all the smoke.

“Now all I have left is my laptop, cellphone and the clothes on my back,” she said, choking back tears.

Leisure Island resident Nicky Goullee, 55, offered up her home on Facebook, saying she could take in about 14 people.

About 20 – including a family with two small children – took her up on the offer.

“Many people offered their homes. I’m not special. Everyone would do it.”

She said they had put people on the floors and couches and anywhere they could.

George guesthouse owner Odette Vermeulen offered accommodation to stricken Knysna residents and, within 20 minutes of posting to Facebook, her offer was taken up by six people, all of whom had lost their homes.

Vermeulen, 39, said her decision to help was her Christian duty. “They were traumatised. Their roofs had fallen in,” she said.

“A lady arrived here with just a small tog bag – that is all she has.”

Amelia Meyer’s Thesen Island home became a temporary refuge for 11 people – families from White Location and Welbedacht and all congregants of her church.

Meyer, 36, said: “The fire moved so quickly.

“It was petrifying watching the flames run towards the township while we helped families evacuate.” Spurs along the Garden Route banded together, serving hundreds of burgers to emergency workers and volunteers from a mobile kitchen at the Knysna Vineyard Church.

George Spur owner Dean Hahn, manning the chip deep-fryer, said: “I have friends and family around here, we all have. And we all need to help where we can.”

By 5pm, his team had cooked and served more than 800 burgers, while Spurs from Port Elizabeth sent a further 2 000.

Plettenberg Bay residents also rallied.

Plett Tourism spokesman Patty Butterworth said there had been an overwhelming response from residents, offering accommodation and donating food, blankets, mattresses and other necessities.

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