A Whatsapp message from Jal Rigaard, Cape St Francis Civics Chairman, on the DVG WhatsApp group midday on Thursday was possibly one of the first warning of another fire about to threaten the St Francis area. With weather conditions almost identical to those on that horrid hot day in January 2016 when a flare fired at a political rally unintentionally ignited the bush inside the fenced area of Eskom land opposite the Sea Vista playing field. A strong easterly wind did the rest turning a small fire into a raging inferno within minutes.

That 2016 fire burnt thousands of hectare of bush killing unknown numbers of wildlife that inhabit the bush as it ravaged the land. As it raged on, constantly changing direction from east to west to a south and back to a westerly, those in Cape St Francis with homes bordering the nature reserves now came under threat and as the fire drew closer residents had little option but to grab what they needed and evacuate. Such must have been the thoughts if not actions of some of those whose homes along Oyster Bay Road that were under treat on Thursday and Friday as this latest fire raged.

No sooner had Jal reported the smoke that the wheels of the various disaster management groups started turning. Kouga Fire was on site almost immediately with help from Sarah Baartman on the way and St Francis Disaster Volunteer Group (SFDVG) fully mobilised for logistical and backup with support from NSRI St Francis & Oyster Bay ready to assist. Working With Fire soon had feet on the ground to face the blaze with a spotter plane and helicopter placed on standby.

Following the 2016 fire a group consisting St Francis Property Owners, St Francis Links, Cape St Francis Civics, Kouga Municipality and Eskom and others met and over the following months put together a disaster management plan to manage any disaster whether fire, flood earthquake or pandemic that may befall St Francis to ensure whatever the disaster it could be efficiently managed and coordinated. And so the formation of St Francis Disaster Volunteer Group (SFDVG) was formed and volunteers enlisted  from local volunteers.

During the December 2018 fires off Harbour Road, SSFVG were on hand to assist with logistics ensuring that not only were fire fighting effort coordinated from crown and traffic control, coordination of  support aircraft and  that fire fighters had necessary equipment, sustenance and medication to allow them to front up to the fires that were intent on destruction. And so too on the Lyme Road fires where more houses were raised to the ground in another intense fire that was preventing more destruction through the coordinated effort to control and finally extinguish the blaze.

Few would have actually thought it likely that the SFDVG would ever face need to prepare plans for a pandemic but when Covid-19 struck, SFDVG were ready. As South Africa went into full lockdown (Level 5) SFDVG immediately mobilised creating a Covid emergency facility at St Francis Bowling Club equipping it with beds, bedding and other needed equipment and supplies should a need to accommodate the infected in such a facility arise. Then as the reality of the possibility of hundreds of Sea Vista men, women and children facing starvation having virtually lost their source of income overnight, DVG again came to the fore raising funds and over a 14 week period sourcing, packing and distributing some 6500 food parcels to those in need in our township all without municipal or government assistance. (https://stfrancistoday.com/sea-vista-food-relief-project-paused-to-reassess-needs/)

Back to the fire.

As Friday dawned exhausted firefighter fought on waiting for air support from a spotter plane and a Huey helicopter. As the fire formed new fronts threatening to jump the road and leaving several homeowners facing the reality of possibly joining the many who have lost their homes in and around St Francis in fires over the years. Coordinating events from a control centre set up in a St Francis Links conference room, firefighters and support personnel and equipment was directed to hot spots as and when the fire jumped and changed direction with the wind that had turned almost 180 degrees from the previous day.

SFDVG Control room at St Francis links

The control centre set up at St Francis Links to coordinate the fire fighting effort

By nightfall much of the fire had been contained and tired and hungry crews could relax a little for the first time is 48 hours. Mother Nature finally lent a helping hand by gently sprinkling a little misty rain on the fire parched earth. Red hot coals glowed around the roots of recently burnt Port Jackson’s ready to ignite with the slightest breath of wind as firefighters remained alert  but able to  rest up get some needed sustenance. 

Sunday saw several flare ups that were quickly extinguished and Kouga Mayor Horatio Hendricks who had kept the public well informed throughout releasing several media bulletins advising of progress finally confirming the danger  was finally over. An excavator was due to create a firebreak on the western edge to prevent the fire spreading further west and the helicopter and spotter were stood down but ready should they be needed to be deployed should. A fresh team of firefighters was also deployed.

So again thanks to all the firefighters, the pilots and other support staff involved for keeping the folk of St Francis Bay safe. And SFDVG your planning and coordinating efforts of the frontline again proved vital and essential minimizing potential damage or loss.

The Disaster Volunteer Group (DVG), including the NSRI, remains closely in contact with the senior fire officers on duty and will activate and assist as necessary. 

FOOTNOTE FROM DVG

“The DVG is so grateful that we are able to feed the firefights still on the ground, attending to the Oyster Bay Road fire for the past days. Monetary donations from the generous public made it possible to feed 100 fighters on the Thursday and another 60 on Friday. We thank you!.

Our thanks also to Gary De Bruin of Chill Beverages for the donation of beverages, our local Village Square Superspar and St Francis Links for provisions and preparation.

Furthermore, we thank the kind owners of i-Lollo Lodge and Christy’s Seafood & Grill for accommodating and proving dinner to the 2 pilots last night.

What a community!”