On Sunday 11 November 2012 – It is late Sunday afternoon, we have finished our braai, the kids are finished studying, the wind is howling and we settle in to watch all the rubbish that Sunday TV has to offer.
The power goes off and we are sort of just diddle daddling around.
At precisely 5.32 my 12 year old daughter gets a bbm from one of her friends who lives down the road – “Help, Royal Wharf is on fire” She comes and tells me, I tell Frans, and him, Rosie and Jamie put on their shoes to go and help the stricken home. Why did we go and help? Well thats what St Francis people do – they go and assist when another resident is in need. We have done it before and we will do it again. I stay at home, Ben our handicapped child is here and handicapped children and helping someone in a fire do not mix well together.
I look onto the horizon and there is a massive plume of black smoke.
My neighbour looks at me “What is that?”
“Royal Wharf has a fire”
“Shit!”, she says.
Now you must understand Royal Wharf is about 500 m away from our front door, we can’t smell any smoke, there is no ash and apart from a serious amount of smoke that we see we can hear nothing, see no flames – nothing.
The Westerly wind is howling – over our home and towards the sea.
I put Ben into the car, open the back gate, put the dogs in a safe place and drive down the road. On the way I see the neighbour’s kids on their bicycles.
“Whats going on?” I ask.
Very calmly Daniel says “Its bad, about 9 houses on fire”. This is the first time I had an inkling that there was a major problem on our hands.
I drove the 500 meters down the road and nothing, and I mean nothing in my wildest dreams could have prepared me for what I saw.
Not only was the Royal Wharf complex on fire but the fire had taken on a life of its own, driven by a massive wind, it was cutting through Moby Dick Wharf and Spray Avenue like a surgeon, it was being driven quickly, the fire was out of control and nothing was going to stop it.
Honestly you could have had every safety precaution in the world in place on that afternoon and it is doubtful that it would have made any difference to the way the fire was ripping through our Village.
Masses of people were helping, taking belongings out of homes, spraying roofs, assisting in evacuating residents, towing boats to safety, pushing cars out of garages. There were also many many more people just there to watch, to get the ultimate photograph, and just generally in the way.
I phoned one of our best friends,
“Gert, there is a massive fire here, the wind is blowing towards your house”
His answer surprised me “lets just see what happens, we are fully insured”, I learnt something from Gert. Unfortunately he lost his beautiful home, all his neighbours lost theirs too.
I realised very quickly Ben and myself could not add value to the situation and I went home, just to get out of the way. Rosie was with a friend and was well away from the flames, Frans and Jamie were nowhere to be seen.
Streams of cars were arriving just to have a look, blocking the through roads, parking wherever they saw fit, arguing with the people trying to block the roads for the firefighters to gain access, hindering residents trying to get out. Two electronic news people so intent on getting photos they and a white Corsa literally blocked off a through bridge to Mayotte Circle just to get the ultimate photo. They argued bitterly when they were asked to move. Many people where “under the weather” after their Sunday afternoon lunch – emergencies and “under the weather” people do not mix well.
The wind is now blowing fiercer than ever before.
The social media lines are going crazy.
My phone is ringing all the time.
I get a phone call from Jamie at 6.45, the fire has been raging for an hour. “Are you guys OK Mom?”,
“Yes Jamie, where are you?”
“I am on the NSRI boat with Paul and we are taking people out of their houses from the canal side. Mom please watch the wind and if it changes direction please leave the house, it is not safe”.
The locals are assisting, people from all over are rushing to assist. Offers of help are pouring in, to even start naming this endless list is impossible. Fire Departments, NSRI, Police, Ambulance, Municipality, Churches, Farmers and hundreds of individuals from near and far they were here to help.
But the fire was too big, too fierce but the wind was blowing it out to sea, away from the rest of the Village.
From our home all we can see is a wall of flames, we still couldn’t smell smoke.
Then the gas bottles started exploding, one after another – with each explosion came a wall of fire and a shower of sparks. The fire was getting worse, not better.
Rosie comes home.
Frans comes home, he said that he was helping with a home and the fire trucks arrived from afar and they were asked to step back to allow the fire fighters to do their work. The home and business where Frans was, was saved. Most of this homes neighbours were not that lucky. Hosepipes stopped working because the water pressure dropped. He came home telling me how the news hounds were behaving very badly and how the congestion was getting worse with people wanting to view the fire.
Jamie is still out there.
Frans puts on a jersey and leaves again.
Then the power comes on – we turn on the Television and already there are visuals on the News, the reports are far worse than we ever expected – 130 homes, the report made it sound like St Francis Bay had been totally wiped out. I will never believe what I hear on the News again.
Not much later Frans and Jamie come home. Both their jobs are done. All the residents have been evacuated and the Fire fighters have arrived from PE, Plett, Uitenhage etc. Etc. It was time for them to leave and leave the professionals to their job. It was Jamie and Frans job to let them do it unhindered and the best way for them to do that was to come home.
It is now 10.30 – the fire has been burning for 5 hours. The wind is still howling. The explosions are still going off. The fire is now in Canal Road and Beauvalon place. Fire trucks are rushing up and down the roads fetching and carrying water. There is still a massive wall of flames to be seen from our home, it looks close ……. too close.
Jamie has a bad cut on his arm, the rest of my family are safe. They go to sleep.
At 1.00 am I go for a drive and the devastation is mind blowing. Homes are still burning but totally gutted. The fire fighters and the rest of the people have moved to Shore Road to try and save the homes there. They did.
At precisely 3.15 – 10 hours after the outbreak of the fire it went out. Just like that it was gone.
At this time the social networking machine was in full swing. One person reported that Shore Road had been wiped out – it wasn’t, a friend of mine was told her home was on fire – it wasn’t. Reports of 160 homes gone were flying around – sadly it was 76. The outside world thought St Francis Bay was no more.
Daylight arrives and immediately certain people start apportioning blame, everyone had their opinion, their story, and as fast as the fire flew through the Village the stories began to fly.
Again the social media sites were abuzz with not a lot of fact. Electronic News was just showing the bad. One newshound was even bragging about the statistics of how many people had visited her site to read about the tragedy – she was proud. The incredible amount of good was mentioned as a by line. Many snide comments about how we are all millionaires and we would bounce back quickly were made – this could not be further from the truth.
For many the adage that life carries on just doesn’t cut it right now. Their life has been put on a horrible hold. No, they did not lose their lives, but they have lost chunks of the memories which make up their lives. I cannot explain to you how heartbroken I am for you.
Kouga Municipality – you have let us down, basic services which should have been in place were non-existent. Your ethos of over -charging and under- delivering must be taken to task, you must now rectify your wrongs.
The Our Times Newspaper in Jeffreys Bay made a most misleading Headline which not only could have damaged our town but made them look incompetent and uninformed but closely akin to rumour mongers. The funniest thing about this was that I put attack on Facebook about their article and within seconds a local rumour monger had tattle tailed straight to them. For some of the so called news people in this area if you were a kid in Rosie or Jamies class, I would have asked them to stay away from you, the type of things you do cause hurt, harm and damage where none is needed.
To the people who assisted, from those who were fighting the fire, to those who offered accommodation, food and love, to those who stayed away because you knew you would just get in the way, well, you would be the type of kid I would strongly suggest Rosie and Jamie hang out with. You are the rocks of society.
To those of you who believe that St Francis Bay is finished, well you couldn’t be more wrong. We are going to bounce back stronger, better and closer than ever before.