Sunday, 11 October 2020

First fire fighting experience

 While fires on the highveld are a norm in winter and early summer, I have not yet been involved with any fire fighting on the farms just outside of Parys. Being in town, I usually hear about fires after they have happened (or not at all).

On Saturday I went to the Koedoeslaagte Trail Park & Venue to do a talk for the Parys Multisport Club's young cross-country and athletics athletes on 'A fit & healthy lifestyle'. Just before I left, smoke was spotted and it looked like a fire in the area. It looked closer than what it was. As I drove, I kept an eye on the growing cloud of smoke. 10-minutes later, I was near the blaze, although I could not yet tell where it was coming from - somewhere down near the river. I stopped outside Klipdas Boskamp and called Jeanne-Marie to ask if they needed help "Yes please, follow the smoke" she instructed.

And so began my first experience of fire fighting. My first task was to get the sheep to safety. I've always been rather fond of sheep, especially lambs. But after this interaction, I now know for sure that sheep are really, really not the smartest domesticated animal in the barnyard.

The next six hours were all about beating flames, checking burn edges for fare ups and being absolutely astounded at how quickly embers flared up in the gusty wind, the immense heat, floods of heat and smoke and massive raging flare ups - just when you thought it was all under control.

Those are not flames behind me - sunlight on smoking grasses. Two hours after this I no longer had any skin visible under the soot. Totally inappropriately dressed and wearing Vibrams! My first time wearing Vibrams in ages and I ended up spending the day tramping through the bush and fighting fires!

While Graeme Addison - who has lived out here for around two decades - considers this, and the many other fires today in the area (some part of this and others independent of this one), to be the biggest burn in the area in his time, this one would be small by the standards of the Australia, California, Knysna and Cape Town fires.

By the time I left Klipdas around 19h30, it looked like everything was safe. Driving home, I saw the telltale glow of other fires in the tinder-rich hills on other farms. There is a 90% chance of rain between 12h00 and 14h00 today (lesser percentages on either side). We really need this forecasted rain to properly put these fires out fast.

A number of people from the surrounding farms pulled into Klipdas with water tanks and pumps on the back of their bakkies to help fight the fires. They have a lot of experience and work quickly and efficiently to cover ground. Others brought drinking water for fire beaters, keeping an eye on the many people spread around the farm. I have so much to learn about fire fighting. 

On the farms in this area, I'm quite sure that the people slept in shifts to keep an eye on the wind and smoldering logs and grasses. Here in town we are protected; out there on the farms the dry vegetation waits for any excuse to ignite. 

Fortunately, my other home-from-home spots, Otters Haunt Parys and Kopjeskraal Country lodge were unaffected by this fire. 

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