2 May 2011
Bush fires are fairly commonplace in summer and when we are experiencing droughts in South Africa but the one last week which threatened the South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre near Port Elizabeth was particularly nasty.
It was fanned by a strong south easterly gale and basically could not be stopped. The fire brigade placed their vehicles along a tarred access road and used is as a natural fire break. They could not prevent the fire from leaping the road but were able to divert it away from the seabird rehabilitation centre.
The centre was evacuated and it was done quickly and efficiently. I was amused to hear the list of items that were evacuated being recounted to a journalist – 14 African Penguins, 2 Cape Gannets and 2 boxes of fish. It was sweet of them to think of the penguin’s lunch. The fire brigade stayed overnight and after a few flare-ups the fire was finally out. Lots of things go wrong when there are fires – one firewoman was evacuated to hospital with smoke inhalation and several others had to have their eyes treated for smoke irritation. Luckily the approaching fire was fairly narrow and most of the small game could avoid the flames. One of my personal horrors are Puff Adders and several were driven out of the bush by the flames. They are a serious hazard for firemen and the on-lookers.
SAMREC was saved and over the next few days the volunteers cleaned and washed the buildings and exhibits and I overheard some great but rather useless wisdom – it is easier to clean a smoky stuffed penguin than a live penguin.
The pictures I took were ok enough but one was unusual and caught my interest. A rainbow formed in the spray of water thrown near the firemen who were hosing the approaching wall of flames. Maybe the rainbow was a promise of a fire free future ahead.