Saturday, 18 July 2015

I Got the Spider

I saw a spider, don’t worry, I got it.

Jokes aside, the weekend just got serious. Our nearest neighbour is about 500m away down by the river and towards the end of the day I went out to call for our cat, Minky, who loves to wonder into the veldt.

It was then that I saw a flame on the garage side of our neighbour's large thatch house. There was also white smoke from a veldt fire coming from behind the house. At first I thought it was the veldt fire behind the house but after pointing it out to another neighbour Gerhardus, we confirmed it wasn’t the veldt but the house itself. And by this time we started hearing screams coming up from the burning house.

After screaming for Lynda and Gerdardus’ wife to phone for help, we jumped into Gerdardus' SUV and rushed across but found that their top gate was padlocked but I knew where there was a gap in the fence between our plot and theirs so we rushed over to the gap and crawled through. Rushing down to the burning house armed only with two small fire extinguishers, we found the care-taker Abie running up towards up in such a panic.

We asked Abie for the keys for the top gate so that help which should be on the way can get closer but Abie said his son has the only key and he is in town. The owner of the homestead I believe is a widow who works for the UN, [Correction: Abie corrected me and said the owner works in Vienna, Austria] Abie is the caretaker of the property and he, his wife, and three children say in the house. The two older boys were in town when a veldt fire set the thatch on the garage side alight. Abie, his wife and young 7 year old daughter were in the house when it started.

When we arrived at the homestead, the fire was still relatively small and would have been controllable but found that the bore hole was out of order and Abie and his wife were using buckets of water to try put the fire out.

Not shortly after we arrived, the young girl, Abie’s daughter, saw my son Matthew, she ran up to him and grabbed him. She was terrified and shaking with fear. Gerdhardus got one of his chaps to take the wife and daughter up to the safety of his place. After making sure that everyone was out of the house, we saw a car in the garage parked sideways, I got the car keys from Abie and tried to start it but it wouldn’t start, we then tried to pull it out but the heat from above started burning my bald head and the smoke was getting very thick, so we had to abandoned the car.

Now at a safe distance, I got my cell phone out and started taking photos. It was about this time that I got feedback from Gerdhardis that the ladies had tried to phone the nearest Fire Department at Lanseria Airport which is only 2km away from us but they responded that it is out of their jurisdiction and are only allowed to handle the airport fires. I also was told that the Randburg and Johannesburg Fire Departments were on a go slow and only the Centurion Fire Department which is 30km away was sending out a unit.

It was getting dark now and none of the Fire Departments would get here in time to save the homestead but about 15mins after the main house started to catch on fire, a number of fire units arrived at the top gate and what seemed like forever, they could not get through the top gate. We just had to helplessly watch the fire spread through the main house while the fire trucks battled to get onto the property. Also it seemed that a large crowd started to gather at the top gate. Just cut the darn lock would you, or drive through the fence as firemen in the movies do, but just get here now!

Finally the fire units started making their way down the driveway towards the doomed homestead and I saw that the fire units were from Lanseria. With the top gate now open more fire units poured in and so did the spectators. I then heard from another neighbour who lives at the end of our street and works at Lanseria that when she saw the fire, she phoned them and ordered them to respond. She said that Lanseria's response time from her call was 8mins.

After a while the local firemen from Lanseria started asking for water to drink as it was getting very hot. The message was sent out to the neighbours to bring drinking water. In the meanwhile the medics had sedated Abie’s wife as she was in severe shock. As the evening continued more fire units started to arrive from other Fire Departments, even a very large ladder unit arrived at the top gate but it was simply way too big to get down to the house and I am sure even tempted to drive through the fields.

I believe the main house itself could have been saved if the fire units arrived earlier and of course if they could have gotten onto the property sooner. Thank goodness Abie and his family are safe although they have lost everything in the devastating fire including the spider. As for the firemen's go slow or not, my heart is wrenched in two for Abie and his family as I can never forget seeing Abie, a black man, in his 50’s, silhouetted against this fire with his hands to the sky, tears streaming down his face, crying out “Oh my God, oh my God!”

(Please note that Abie, his wife, 2 sons 24 and 15 years old, and a daughter 6 years old, have lost nearly everything and has to start all over. They need help. And just a reminder that all my photographs on my blog are copyright)


Jerome West said...

I just phoned Abie, he and his family have moved into a cottage that is also on the property. I know they saved their bed, a queen size and one of the sons rooms wasn't touched by the fire. He said they are short on bedding, curtains, and kitchenware. I forgot to ask about clothing, sorry, but am sure they would need that too.

Mariposa said...

oh wow what a disaster! Thank God that they are all safe. The journey of picking up and starting all over again is going to be a very challenging one. I hope they stay strong. It's unfortunate that the fire brigade did not respond on time, etc. :(

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