(Picture:- The storage shed of Ezigro Nursery in Karatara, just below Farleigh, succumbed to the intense flames as the blaze swept through the
rural area. Taken by Nursery Manager Don Smith.)
An official report from Garden Route District’s Joint Operations Centre has released the tragic news that eight people died in Farleigh on Monday 29 October. This as a result of the runaway blaze that swept through the rural area. Six of the deceased were children, and all eight are reported to have been from the same extended family.
The next of kin have been informed, and the victims’ names released by the South African Police Service (SAPS), who have also confirmed that a docket had been opened to investigate the matter.
Their names are Elsabe Windvogel (42), Ethan Windvogel (2), Eljade Windvogel (12), Andrea Bewee (21), Nalaya Oelf (5), Niah Oelf (3), Aliyah Oelf (13 months) and Nalani Oelf (11 months).
It is believed that the victims were all in the same house at the time of the tragedy.
Information received thus far is that the fire also destroyed 13 houses in Farleigh and Bosdorp, the Geelhoutvlei Timbers sawmill, the main water pipeline and two storage sheds in the Ezigro Forestry Nursery, and various plantations.
The blaze had been burning for some days on the inaccessible slopes of the Outeniqua Mountains above Karatara, where it had been closely monitored by SANParks and Sedgefield Fire Department, with the assistance of aerial resources. Whilst extinguishing it was not possible, fire-breaks had been cut and back-burns initiated in an effort to prevent any further spread.
By mid-afternoon on Monday, just when everyone was breathing a cautious sigh of relief that fires burning in Herold, George, seemed to at last be under control, the winds in Karatara suddenly picked up speed. Despite the combined efforts of firefighters and the SANParks crew, the flames could not be contained and evacuation was the only choice.
Dense smoke added chaos to the already difficult task, and whilst most of the residents of Karatara’s Bosdorp were moved to the Community Hall, it wasn’t possible to enforce a full evacuation of Farleigh before the flames engulfed some of the homes. This is when the tragic deaths occurred.
The fire spread into the Kraaibosch farming community, then slowed, and it was hoped that rain would end its run, but at 4 am on Tuesday morning extremely windy conditions prevailed and the blaze continued on into the daylight of Tuesday. Fortunately, this time the wind direction worked in favour of the more populated areas, and kept the fires on the northern side of the Keurhoek and Bibby’s Hoek communities near Rheenendal. Both areas were evacuated as a precautionary measure, and though residents looked uneasily at the billowing smoke on the horizon, at time of going to press it seemed that neither of the communities had suffered any damage.
Meanwhile, the challenge to assist those who have lost their homes and the evacuees, 840 according to Knysna Municipality, has been met by local volunteers with their usual determination.
It was a serious case of déjà vu in the Sedgefield Community Hall, with the Rebuild Eden team out in force to coordinate assistance and the local residents pouring in to do whatever they could to help.
The Municipality also opened the community halls in Brenton, Karatara, and Hornlee, and Totties Restaurant and Ebb n Flow Camp agreed to help with accommodating displaced people.
Knysna Executive Mayor Mark Willemse was heartbroken at the news of the Farleigh deaths.
“A mere 16 months ago, Greater Knysna was rocked by the horrific 7 June fires, and we all hoped and prayed that we would never again have to witness such devastation,” he said, “Today, we are once again forced to face more tragic deaths caused by the scourge of veld fires. My sincere condolences and sympathies go out to their relatives, colleagues and loved ones during this very tragic time.”
The EDGE Team would also like to offer our heartfelt sympathy to the Oelf, Windvogel and Bewee families. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.
On behalf of the Garden Route community, we wholeheartedly salute the valiant and tireless efforts of all those working on the ‘war-front’ – be they firefighters, SANParks crew or volunteers.
Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!