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Sat Aug 27 03:21:22 SAST 2016

Lucky escape from Cape fire

Bobby Jordan | 19 January, 2016 00:24
BITTER HARVEST: Joseph Sabulawa, from Iona Wine Farm in Elgin, with a bunch of burnt grapes
Image by: ESA ALEXANDER

A wildfire that destroyed more than 3 000ha of mostly natural vegetation in Elgin came within 5m of destroying a fleet of vintage caravans.

While the caravans escaped ruin, smoke and soot are likely to blemish growing fruit intended for export, Agri Wes-Kaap warned yesterday.

The fire, in the predominantly fruit-growing area just outside Cape Town, is believed to be the work of arsonists.

Louise Wessels, of the Greater Overberg Fire Protection Association, said a case of "malicious ignition" was being investigated. Local farmers say they saw people starting the blaze near an informal settlement in Botrivier.

Several landowners reported harrowing scenes over the weekend as giant flames leapt to within metres of vineyards and farm dwellings. Volunteers have been fighting the blaze since Saturday.

Two farm sheds and two labourers' houses were reportedly destroyed, as was farm infrastructure such as power cables, fences and irrigation equipment.

A fleet of vintage Airstream caravans on the Old Mac Daddy farm, was lucky to escape the flames. The caravans were shipped to South Africa several years ago and handed over to local artists for refurbishing.

Each caravan is now a work of art, with its own theme and decor, and the fleet attracts a steady stream of visitors.

The general manager of the Old Mac Daddy resort, Eben Odendaal, said the caravans were saved in the nick of time by the farm's fire management system.

"That's what saved us - the fire was only about 5m away," Odendaal said.

The caravan area has been drenched in water.

"It was amazing how everybody pitched in and assisted. If the community hadn't worked together it would have been much worse," he said.

Employees at the nearby Iona Wine Estate, near Elgin, said flames came within metres of the vines.

"It was hairy - the fire completely surrounded us," said marketing spokesman Juliette Collins. "The fire was as high as the pines."

The fire had been confined to remote mountainous areas by yesterday.

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