‘Almost apocalyptic’ — Pringle Bay evacuated after another Western Cape inferno
Pringle Bay residents were ordered to evacuate on Tuesday, as the Hangklip fire raged on, with thick smoke engulfing the coastal village and flames fanned by swirling gusts of wind. The evacuation order was lifted on Tuesday night, but the fire remained out of control.
With thick smoke surrounding Pringle Bay and flames just above his house, Pringle Bay resident Hector Santos described the scene as “almost apocalyptic”.
Santos said he was forced to leave his house in the Western Cape coastal village early on Tuesday morning when authorities insisted they evacuate. “I didn’t want to. I wanted to protect my home but that was probably the wise thing to do… I was very afraid of losing our property.”
The Western Cape’s fire season is raging on with intensity. The Hangklip, Grabouw and Buffeljags fires which began on Monday, as well as the Kluitjieskraal fire, which began a week before that, are being fuelled by high temperatures and strong winds, with firefighters still battling to contain these blazes.
On Tuesday night, Overstrand municipal manager Dean O’Neill said that while 783 hectares of land had burnt in the Hangklip fire, no loss of life had been recorded.
A total of 120 firefighters, 40 vehicles and three helicopters were involved in firefighting efforts in the area on Tuesday. A reduced team would be on the ground during the night and fresh teams would arrive on Wednesday.
O’Neill said there were four active fire lines and that wind change caused unpredictable fire behaviour. “It is expected that the following two days will be challenging.”
Overstrand Mayor Annelie Rabie told Daily Maverick that four homes were destroyed by the fire on Monday and another six to seven structures suffered damage, including a chalet at the Hangklip Hotel.
On Tuesday afternoon, the fire came close to houses higher up the mountain with homeowners looking on fearfully. However, thanks to firefighters from municipalities including the City of Cape Town, Hessequa, Swartland and George, none of the houses was damaged.
“This morning, the wind was unpredictable and played havoc with us. We’ve had a number of houses in real trouble. All the houses on the top of the mountain were endangered as the fire came within a metre and even half a metre of them.
“The wind is problematic. People are tired, but at least at this time we haven’t lost any houses in this area. People were evacuated for the very simple reason that we don’t know where the wind is going,” Rabie said.
The Hangklip troop of 70 baboons was a concern as firefighting teams could only find 26 of the troop.
With helicopters flying above his house late on Tuesday afternoon, Pringle Bay resident Russel Roberts told Daily Maverick, “It feels apocalyptic… Within half an hour I had seen the fire jump from the top of the mountain and in no time it had travelled all the way down to the properties, all because of the wind picking up and the embers blowing, which created further carnage for the fire.”
Roberts said the firefighters were “doing their darndest” to keep the fire under control, with helicopters coming over every minute with water, but their efforts were hampered by the strong wind and dry vegetation.
Roberts said that earlier when the police requested families to evacuate, he managed to get his wife and daughter out, along with their vehicles. They were staying at a friend’s place, still in Pringle Bay, but further away from the danger.
“I decided to stay behind because my neighbour is an elderly gentleman, 70 years old, who has been here all his life and opted not to evacuate his property. I’ve stayed with him. So far we are not in danger, but the fire is still raging and the wind has picked up,” he said.
Another resident, Thomas Greenwood, said, “I didn’t evacuate because I watched the wind, seeing which way the wind turns. At the moment we have a proper southeaster, which is blowing away from me, a little bit over the mountain. If it changes, then I will have to make a plan.”
Resident Karin Toerien said, “We have been living here since 1969 and have seen lots of fires. My mom has a house in the front and we have a little house on High Level Road. Luckily for us, the wind has kept the fire away from us.
“It’s terrible but the fynbos needs this fire. Where it has been burning in the valley, that fynbos has been there for 30 years and has never burnt. We actually belong to a hacking group of 40 people, and we have cleared a lot of rooikrans along the way. We are so proud of what we have done because it has actually contained the fires because there is very little to burn.”
Increased heat, windy conditions and drier vegetation, as well as mismanagement, have created conditions for the increased risk of fire in the Western Cape.
Read in Daily Maverick: What is making Deep South fire so severe and why are more deadly fires likely to occur?
Premier Alan Winde said, “Fires are volatile and unpredictable. Coupled with the hot, windy weather, these fires have stretched our emergency teams to their limit. But I have all the confidence in our entire disaster management network to eventually bring the blaze under control, with officials in the public and private sector working together round the clock to protect lives and infrastructure.”
In an article in The Conversation, researchers said dangerous wildfires are increasingly likely because of climate change, which causes increased frequency and severity of hot, dry weather, also known as “fire weather”. This makes vegetation dry up and landscapes become more combustible. DM