It started on Thursday, as fires do, with a puff of smoke on the other side of the mountain. We were in Johannesburg on business and everyone assured us that it was quite far away and we were safe. By late Thursday it was on our neighbours’ farm, still high above us. Peter was on a plane home and I was getting our farm workers back onto the farm to help.
On Friday at 4am Peter phoned to say they had lost it on the south side of our farm. I was already wide awake; I got up and packed to come straight home.
By late Friday I was standing at the gate with a friend and neighbour. I’d been running food, drinks, diesel and other supplies but couldn’t get onto the farm because of a raging fire at the gate. Our neighbour John, an experienced farmer and firefighter had come up to give us water and sustenance. He said “The first fire was to test us. The second fire was serious. But this, this fire is the real thing.” Meanwhile complete strangers were stopping me on the dirt road to tell me they “knew” our house had burned down. The fire raged on.
It is Saturday evening now. We’ve been fighting flare ups all day. The nights can be frightening. Last night we had “resources” to help – because there were so many hotspots. Tonight we will be on our own. I am becoming more competent at firefighting. If it flares tonight I won’t evacuate. I will make sure the dogs are safe and go and fight it. The whole mountain has burned and now the fire seeks the last lines of green, the few remaining trees and plantations that we’ve saved. Another neighbour says “the fire sees something it wants to eat, dry grass, a tree, a thatched roof; then it goes and gets it, even if it has to jump far.”
Not a single fynbos flower left and barely a plant anywhere on this entire mountain that hasn’t been damaged by the fire. The forest is dead and the land is a moonscape. It will revive of course. That is what the fynbos does. But so many old friends gone. All my old friends that have appeared on these blog posts; all are gone. Now they must regenerate. They say the fynbos burns every 15 – 20 years. It has been 17 since this farm burned. I cannot bring myself to post the really terrible photos of the scorched earth.
I am told the spring flowers will be incredible. I hope so and I hope to share that joy on these pages. It will take a while.
All we have left are the olives, which miraculously survive and some buchu lands that our farm workers fought bravely to save because they have not yet been harvested.
The hungry fire smouldering darkly.
And our house.