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More fire

January 16, 2005

Photo: Brenton Geach, Cape Argus

Cape Town has been engulfed in fire this past week. We are suffering through a serious drought, it is mid-summer and hot, and there have been some really strong winds. Fires seem to break out everywhere.


Famous fire of 2000


As I’ve mentioned before, I belong to a volunteer unit attached to the provincial parks department that helps to fight these fires. We are trained in wild fire suppression, mountain craft, abseiling, first aid, jumping in and out of helicopters and so on. Whenever there is a serious fire we get a call out.

I went to fight a fire on Tuesday, above Kalk Bay. It was quite an easy job because three fire helicopters, with their incredible Russian pilots, were picking water up from Kalk Bay harbour and dumping it on the flames. It got under control quite early, though we stayed well into the night to make sure it was out.

In the next few days more fires broke out in the mountains above Muizenberg and Steenberg, some homes were burnt down and people had to be evacuated.

And yesterday a whole bunch more broke out….

I’ve been feeling under the weather and a little sick – all the stress of moving around and being homeless, I think. So yesterday I went to get some videos and was going to spend the day just chilling out.

As I got home, I got an urgent fire call out, so I went to the station at Newlands. Because I am moving around, I wasn’t really equipped properly – some of the stuff I would normally take was packed somewhere.

But anyway, there were five fires yesterday. Our team and another team – 17 people – were rushed off to Hout Bay with sirens blaring. A big fire had broken out on the mountain above the harbour.

We had to work our way up the side of the mountain along the fire line, putting it out as we went along. For the first section we had a hose and water, so it wasn’t too had – though the heat was intense enough for the hose to catch alight – I had to rescue it!

But then the flames were really high, and we had to keep climbing. We did rock climbing with fire fighting equipment and winds blasting us at 75km/h. It was really hectic – we all had to help each other up the rock face, because the wind would threaten to blow you off.

Then we had to hack our way through dense bush to get to the flames. The bushes were over two metres high, and we could see nothing except flames ahead of us and smoke. You cut your way to the flames, going uphill all the time, put them out and move on. Once I found myself on a small ledge on the mountain with a fire and the hectic wind. Every time I tried to put it out the wind would make it flare up, and I was being pushed off the ledge. I ended up with one foot on the ledge and one on a rock below beating out the flames.

There were three helicopters – air force this time – dropping water on the flames, and twice I was directly underneath when it dropped thousands of litres of seawater on me. Quite an experience! Not unwelcome though, in the heat.

Eventually we worked our way right to the top and made sure it way all out, and then worked our way back down again. Fortunately it was still quite light when we got off the mountain – on Tuesday we had to make our way down in the dark.

When we got to the bottom they fed us and took us back to Newlands. I got home at 9:30 and had a look at myself in the mirror: I looked like I had a black beard from my neck to my eyes – I was completely covered in soot. My eyes were clean because of the goggles. And of course my uniform was black too.

I couldn’t sleep very well because I was so hot. Like when you’ve spent too long in the sun and feel like you’ve absorbed so much heat that you’re radiating it. I dreamt of fire and smoke and choppers and sirens.

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