The Valley is made up of heroes.” This is the sentiment of Marti Weddepohl, managing director of Mercy Networks, an NGO specialising in the provision of disaster distress relief, in reference to the community’s response to the raging fires that swept through the far south last week.
Swathes of Simon’s Town, Ocean View, Redhill and Glencairn were affected with some, but not all areas, evacuated.
Ms Weddepohl, who is accredited by the American Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and recognised by the Western Cape Disaster Management Department, was stationed at the Fish Hoek Community Hall where evacuated residents had spent some anxious time, wondering if they would have homes to return to.
She says no one person was more important in their response but that the actions of each individual showed the true mettle of the Valley as a whole.
“Teams that came in from further afield were astonished at the generosity and community spirit shown by our residents who came out to do everything from helping with traffic control and animal collection to providing water and transporting goods to the men and women on the line of fire,” Ms Weddepohl said.
She mentioned the incalculable help from civilians to various neighbourhood watches and all of the official respondents; from NSRI members, to CMR staff, Metro Rescue, EnviroWildfire and CERT EVS volunteers, whom she said did exceptional work.
Donated items included: Saline solution for blaze-weary eyes (plus volunteers on hand to apply this), separately wrapped sandwiches for fire fighters with halaal meals specially marked, pizza, a massive number of bottled drinks, energy and chocolate bars, a coffee van and ice.
“A representative from Pick n Pay corporate came out, sometimes twice a day, to ensure that the right things were being delivered to the right places. I was really struck by their personal interest. We had help from local restaurants and hotels, from Checkers Hyperama and Roman’s Pizza.The support was exceptional,” Ms Weddepohl said.
Two women on holiday, Alicia Matthews and Sonya Greyling, arrived and organised water from Sun Valley and Muizenberg. A dad drove all around the area looking for tired thirsty firemen to deliver sandwiches and cool drink to, while his two daughters helped out in the hall till late at night, insisting they wanted to do their part. There was ward councillor Felicity Purchase sweeping the hall at 11pm after a long day on hand, and a story of Mark Wiley personally saving a woman’s house by dousing the rafters on her roof as the fire got closer.
People just arrived in droves to help, to be hands where they were most needed.
“This is what binds the valley,” Ms Weddepohl said.
She said the SPCA were absolute heroes. “They arrived in Pine Haven on the Red Hill Road with three vans, and simply went straight into the area while this wall of fire came directly towards them. There were animals in the area that were tied up, and they went in to rescue them. And about 20 minutes later when everyone thought it must now be too late, they came out calm, with calm dogs and cats, loaded them all up and drove out; just ahead of a wall of flame,” Ms Weddepohl said.
A dog parlour called Doggy Style sent the word out that they would collect and keep animals for free during this time. Owner Wesley Sweetnam said that when people panic, sometimes pets are forgotten (or can’t be found) and he wanted to do what he could to ensure that the animals in the area were safe.
“We have done this before when there were fires and we will definitely do it again if there are fires again,” he said. “I also want to the thank the people who left what they were doing and came – or called – to help us. We were so amazed at people’s responses,” he said.
Annetjie Cronje of Da Gama Park says her dogs and some strays were collected by the parlour free of charge on Wednesday. “They were amazing, they took them away to safety for us and dropped them off again the next day when it was all safe,” she said.
Ms Cronje told the False Bay Echo she couldn’t believe how fast the fire moved. “We had seen it come in but it looked so far away, I told my husband I would take the dogs for a walk on the beach and then we would see what we needed to do,” she said.
Within half an hour, when she returned home, the fire was already next door to her home.
“The house was filled with black and orange smoke. We thought we could go in and collect some things but we didn’t have chance to save anything, except our important documents – my husband had those – and our laptop,” she said. Everything else was at the mercy of the blaze.
Ms Cronje said her son Arno saved their home – although it had been doused, a bin in the back garden had flared up again and the braai area and logs were on fire. “He put it out with a hosepipe,” she said. “If not for his quick thinking… I can’t imagine it,” she said.
Another family in the area being evacuated had all their official documents in hand and were on their way out the door when a family friend arrived on his bike. He had taken off work to help, and he directed them back in: to retrieve collector piece items they had, and their LPs.
The Fish Hoek community hall was cleared of residents by Friday morning, but Marti and Gus Weddepohl, Johan Kilkillus, Pat Francke were there when the Echo visited.
Boxes of sandwiches and cooldrinks were still being collected.
The donations of goods had been split up into four depots: one in Noordhoek, one in Scarborough, one in Simon’s Town and then this one in Fish Hoek.
“These are early days. We expect more, so these depots will have something on hand for emergencies and then we can respond as needed, shifting the goods to where they are needed,” Ms Weddepohl said.
One of the animal casualties of the fires was a newborn buck named Bambi whose umbilical cord was still attached. She was seen all alone, trying to hobble away from the fire.
CapeNature and the The Emma Animal Rescue Society (TEARS) crew’s efforts to find her mom were unsuccessful.
The little thing is now in the care of Brett Glasby, head of the Cape of Good Hope SPCA’s wild life unit.
He wrote on the Tears Facebook page: “Little Bambi has responded well to treatment for the initial shock and was very quick to take to the bottle. Hopefully mom can be located and they can be reunited.”