Last week, on the tail-end of a fortnight felled by a virulent flu, I was still rendered horizontal, listening from a darkened room to the wind howling outside, wondering if branches were going to be torn from the trees and land on the house or my car (one landed next to it).
The sound of the rain, when it arrived, was music to my ears, despite the ferocity of the conditions, and I gave great thanks for the warmth and security of my snug vantage point for the worst storm in 30 years, according to meteorologists.
My little portable radio, a constant companion and source of news and opinion, provided regular updates, and my heart went out to those affected by flooding, damage to their homes, major inconvenience in getting to work with road conditions or cancelled transportation services, etc.
And then… the news of the Knysna fires started filtering through, the shocking real-time reporting, the people calling in to share their fears for family members they couldn’t reach; the emergency services spokespeople describing situations of acute danger and heroism; the mass evacuations and deployment of resources from far and wide to face this unexpected consequence of hot, gale-force winds, and the fury and unbelievable speed of the all-consuming conflagrations.
I thought of friends I know, who live in this area, so ironically called Eden, and the Southern Cape was also my birthplace, imbedded on my soul.
A little A-frame cabin we used to visit as students in the 80s, on the winding road leading to Brenton-on-Sea, belonging to a family who were very dear to me, and I was there just last year, a few days before losing my dad.
And Heartland, the organic farm on the outskirts of Sedgefield, where I’ve spent time over two recent Christmas holidays, and written about, with its meandering food gardens, and where the families who dwell there have invested all their energies in building their “green” homes using wood from the nearby forests, creating beautiful structures that are models of efficiency and off-the-grid, independent living.
As the extent of the horror unfolded, the dramatic rescues and the reports of the first casualties, I found myself praying: for those in need; for those who were rendering services to fellow man, woman, child and animal, exhibiting courage under fire, against odds that were so daunting.
Praying that the rain, which was lashing us in the Western Cape, and propelling the warm, ultimately devastating winds that were exacerbating the fires, would quickly make its way south-east, and bring drenching relief.
Then I heard: my friends’cabin near Brenton was gone, consumed. And at Heartland, so close to my heart, suffered the same fate, burned. Their lives were spared, and those of their dogs, chickens, and the inimitable Thelma and Louise (pet pigs), but their homes and food gardens lay in ashened ruins in gutted, once-lush landscape.
Nearby, also in the Karatara area, a young family had paid the ultimate price, and lost their lives, a mom (and unborn child), dad, and little boy on the eve of his third birthday were overcome, and perished. Unbearable.
Firefighters have died too, men who stepped into a battlefield of such unforgiving ferocity, and there may yet be more residents found, with time, who join the roll-call of the claimed.
The scope of damage is almost inestimable. Complacency is such a dangerous thing: our vulnerability is being demonstrated, in the face of the weather extremes that increasingly prevail, bringing the ravages of drought, of flames, the capacity to be stripped of not only luxuries, but outright necessities, most pressingly, our water and shelter.
The response of support has been heartening beyond belief, representing compassionate humanity. These are indeed the best of times; the worst of times.
Carolyn Frost: Editor