At one stage there was a call for Sedgefielders to standby and be ready for possible evacuation, and residents numbly packed their ‘pick up and go’ bags, but fortunately, the ‘stand down’ message followed minutes later. Despite the bombardment of hype and mistruth on social media, panic did not set in, though fear and stress were at almost unbearable levels. Perhaps with 800 firefighters from all over the country descending on Knysna to tackle the blaze, as well as six fire-bombing helicopters, residents knew that all that could be done was being done.
But as night fell the size and brightness of the flames brought on renewed fear. Massive, threatening blazes were visible on the Eastern side of town and it seemed the village may well soon be engulfed.
Then once again the monitoring team issued a calming broadcast that all was under control and that the fire team had commenced ‘back burning’ – a means by which they could fight fire with fire by burning the vegetation on the dune of the Goukamma Reserve, so that the controlled fire would meet the larger fire halfway – and leave nothing for it to consume. The wind was blowing in the right direction and the firemen and support crews admirably performed this technical challenge with great success.
Sedgefield communities were kept informed by any means necessary, Whatsapp messages, voicenotes facebook posts notifications were sent by those in the know to those who were in the dark.
As the sun rose on Sunday 11 June, the town’s people woke up to far less smoke, and no flames on the horizon. Even after days of fetching, carrying, receiving and distributing, the volunteers (and more) once again pitched up at the Town Hall and other centres, offering their hands and feet to keep up the incredible work. Anything to make the broken lives of those affected by the fire a little better.