Houses gutted at Van Stadens River gorge

Sardinia Bay and Schoenmakerskop had to be evacuated as a massive blaze that had destroyed a huge amount of vegetation threatened properties and livestock.
Picture: Brian Witbooi

Several houses between Thornhill, Lady Slipper and Rocklands on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth were gutted as a raging fire swept across the mountain range on Wednesday night. It is believed that the fire started in the Longmore State Forest near Thornhill earlier this week.

At least eight houses bordering the Van Stadens River gorge were destroyed between Wednesday night and midday yesterday.

Last night, residents in Sardinia Bay and Schoenmakerskop had to be evacuated as a massive blaze that had destroyed a huge amount of vegetation threatened properties and livestock.

Yesterday, provincial police spokeswoman Brigadier Marinda Mills said the fire in the Rocklands area was under control but smouldering.

“Eight families are being assisted by disaster management,” she said.

A distraught Belinda Mitchell, 52, whose house was damaged by the fire, said residents had been urged to evacuate at about 11pm on Wednesday.

“My daughter, who is in school, grabbed her hockey gear and left while I grabbed some photos and policies.”

Belinda’s husband, Keith, 52, however, opted rather to fight the fire.

Keith said he had fought the fire throughout the night, with a hose.

The Mitchells’ neighbours were not as fortunate.

Yesterday, all that remained on their property were the skeletons of a car, boat and motorbikes.

Resident Robert Kay, 45, said a small group had stayed to fight the blaze.

“Within minutes entire houses were burnt to the ground,” he said.

The house adjacent to his plot went up in flames within minutes.

“The dog ran under the house to escape and efforts to save him failed.”

Another resident, John Sharkie, 41, said while it had been chaos, everyone had known what to do.

He said Bay Disaster Management had stepped in to assist.

“They are here helping with food and water. Those who lost everything are getting blankets and mattresses.”

Farmers from Crossways Farming Village were seen beating out fires that continued to flare up yesterday.

Pieter Janse van Vuuren said: “We have no other choice as these fires could easily engulf the grazing fields and the cows on them.

“Many farmers are facing a very real threat of losing their livelihoods, which will have a major effect on the job scenario of the area.”

In Sardinia Bay and Schoenmakerskop, a fire that had started at midday came close to properties and the owners and firefighters used hoses to wet the yards and roofs of the houses.

Friends and family helped with buckets of water while others carried spades to help fend off the inferno.

Sardinia Bay resident Peter Pretorius, 41, said the fire had started shortly after 12.30pm and quickly covered a massive area due to the strong wind.

“It is 10 metres away from my house and is fanned by the strong wind.

“There are lots of people desperately trying to fend it off.”

Rica Potgieter, 53, of Summerstrand, whose sister lives in Sardinia Bay, said she had gone there on a fire-fighting mission.

“This is unbelievable,” she said. “It was unnecessary to start this fire.” While Potgieter said two alleged arsonists had been arrested, police spokeswoman Colonel Priscilla Naidu said no one had been arrested.

Naidu said a witness had reported at the Walmer police station that he had seen two people start the fire.

“We are investigating the matter,” she said.

Municipal spokesman Mthubanzi Mniki said that additional disaster management teams had been sent to Sardinia Bay and Rocklands, where they were still trying to get the fires under control.

In Lorraine, a fire started at the back of the Smallville complex in Verdun Road just before 9am.

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