'Everything else has gone' - home owner after St Francis Bay fire
“All I could do was grab my laptop, which is essential for my business. Everything else has gone.”
Those were the words of Johannesburg developer Gert van den Berg, whose holiday house – and memories spanning more than a decade – were reduced to ashes by a runaway fire that gutted at least 10 homes in the Eastern Cape town of St Francis Bay on Tuesday.
Van den Berg told the Herald newspaper what he lost: “It was the photos, the memories, the things you cannot replace.”
Chaotic scenes played out as hundreds of people, including local farmers, rallied together along with firefighters to try and save houses in the town, many of which have thatched roofs.
The fire spread quickly, fanned by strong winds.
One adult male was treated for carbon monoxide poisoning and taken to hospital.
The scramble was described by freelance photographer Christopher Scott in a Facebook post: “I went down and it looked like a war zone ... people everywhere helping wherever they could ... running in and out of homes carrying what they could, supplying water, masks, eye drops and food.
“I arrived and already many, many houses had already burnt down. Fire engines from various towns came to help. It was quite something to see so many people helping selflessly. Unfortunately many homes were destroyed but many were saved,” he wrote.
“It was tough photographing what was left. I did not see burnt homes, I saw burnt dreams, burnt holidays … To all those that lost their homes, condolences.”
Kouga Municipality confirmed that 11 homes had burnt down. A call went out overnight, as firefighters continued to monitor and contain the blaze, for bottled water, energy drinks and easy-to-eat meals to sustain those who were battling the flames.
Earlier in the day, the municipality ordered parts of the town to be evacuated.
National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) crews joined disaster risk management (DRM) volunteers, traffic services, police, private ambulance services, Eastern Cape emergency services and fire departments from St Francis Bay, Humansdorp, Jeffreys Bay, Kareedouw, Nelson Mandela Bay and Kouga in fighting the blaze and providing medical assistance to residents.
“Farmers from Patensie, Thornhills and Rocklands also arrived and assisted on the scene. NSRI Oyster Bay appealed to the Brakkeduine 4x4 group, who sent teams of members to assist,” said Sara Jane Smith, NSRI St Francis Bay station commander.
“A patient triage area was set up at a local church, where smoke inhalation and injuries were attended to. An NSRI doctor, local doctors and NSRI and volunteer DRM medics assisted paramedics treating patients for minor to moderate injuries.
"One serious injury was attended to. One patient, an adult male, suffered serious carbon monoxide poisoning. He has been transported to hospital by ambulance in a serious condition,” said Smith.
About 70 homes were destroyed by a devastating fire during 2012 in the town.