Fire roars through Makana, Eastern Cape, threatening Rhodes University residences
The Eastern Cape's Rhodes University residences were threatened by a massive veld fire fuelled by strong, swirling winds on Tuesday night, 23 July 2019. Three residences on the western side of the university were evacuated. The fire started in the industrial area above the city of Makana. According to the South African Weather Services, conditions on Tuesday, 23 July 2019, were favourable for runaway fires. The weather forecast showed a temperature of 24 degrees Celsius, a north westerly wind, with a wind speed of around 64km/h was expected. Conditions were dry with no rain expected. At around 14h30 that day, a wildfire was reported to have started near Rainer Agencies in the industrial area, fanned by gusting winds, spreading rapidly in the direction of the commonage area behind the SPCA and Rhodes University.
A crew was immediately dispatched to the scene. The responding officer reported a large area burning and that the fire was spreading very fast. Due to the size of the fire and the wind speed at the time, a decision was made by William Welkom, the manager for Makana Fire Services, to call for back-up of standby personnel and also immediately called Rhodes University to assist with their water trucks including Diocesan School for Girls (DSG) School.
The fire continued to spread in the direction of the Rhodes University Campus and Old Town Filters. A water tanker and staff of Rhodes University was placed at strategic points near the residences, close to approaching fire line and the other water tanker on the Worcester Street side near Town Filters. These vehicles supplied water to the fire fighting vehicles on the fire line. The fire was kept away from the boundaries of the Rhodes University campus and a house at the Old Town Filters.
At around 21h00 the fire was brought under control with a lot of hotspots and tree stumps burning in the burnt-out area. All properties affected were declared safe at 22h00. The fire crews continued to monitor the affected areas throughout the night, for any flare-ups.
No loss of life or livestock and no injuries were reported during the incident. Welkom said he was extremely grateful for the way the community had come together to assist during the incident to protect life and property. He added that the cause of the fire was an electrical overhead conductor.
The following available resources were utilised
Personnel and appliances in the form of a fire officer and nine fire fighters, manning five vehicles; a medium pumper, a water tanker and three LDVs with skid units, as well as Makana’s response vehicle.
The following entities assisted during the incident:
- Rhodes University – Two Water Trucks and three staff members
- DSG School – an LDV with a skid unit and one staff member
- St Andrews College – a Tractor and water trailer with four staff members
Students were evacuated from all upper campus residences by 20h00 due to heavy smoke, said RU director of special projects Sue Smailes. Students were all accounted for. A few had received medical attention for smoke inhalation. Students from upper campus had been paired off with students in residences in lower campus where they would spend the night.
Independent school Kingswood College and the local Hobbiton project had provided mattresses. Local residents and students supplied fire fighters with snacks and bottled water. “As usual our community has pulled together to assist,” said Smailes.
“Much appreciation to the fire department, our staff, schools and Pick n Pay for their invaluable assistance. I saw so many friends of our university who came out to lend support,” said Rhodes vice-chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela.
Source: Manager: Makana Municipality Fire Services, William Welkom and Talk of the Town