By Fleur Rollason
Fires were raging near Grahamstown and its surroundings on Wednesday, 13 August. The fire spread quickly, resulting in severe damage. Initially the fire broke out at Pumba Game Reserve, situated on the N2 outside Grahamstown. Reportedly, the reserve had more than half of their land destroyed by the fire. This amounts to approximately 3000 hectares of burnt land. The fires also affected the Addo Elephant National Park where, it was reported, 35 chalets were set alight. Visitors to the popular reserve had to be evacuated. Another landmark that was severely damaged was Wylies Farm.
Mark Snelgar, a pilot from Sheltam Aviation in Port Elizabeth, helped with dousing the flames. “The fire started in Pumba Game Reserve and 60 percent of their land was destroyed. It moved to the Stone Crescent area and then jumped across Grahamstown to Wylies Farm area where there was also damage,” relayed Snelgar.
Small fires had broken out before Wednesday, but the dry and windy weather conditions whipped them into a big blaze. Rhodes student Jonathan Terry was witness to the situation and said, “I only saw the edge of it on the road out to Port Elizabeth. There were helicopters picking up water from Jameson Dam and a dam on a private farm.”
Snelgar went on to explain that the helicopters used were two Air Force helicopters called Oryxes, which were quickly deployed to drop water on the fire. The helicopters are able to carry the weight of 2500 kilograms of water which has to be fetched from the nearest water source.
Since the fire was raging for hours, fire fighters were challenged with battling severe fatigue as well as the fire. Fortunately, emergency services managed to control the fire by the end of the day, leaving Thursday morning dedicated to damage control.
Over the last month, there have been a number of wildfires on the hills surrounding Grahamstown. Usually wildfires are good for the land because they ultimately aid fresh plant growth when the summer rains arrive. However, after Wednesday’s fire, there has been an extraordinary amount of damage to farmland and property, causing local authorities to be wary of further outbreaks.