Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The end of Enkosini? 29th - 1st Sep

My last few days at Enkosini have not the best days of my life to say the least.

It started out fine. On the morning of the 29th we had to tow one of the quads to a local farmer so that repairs could be carried out. Ranger Chas rode the towed quad which meant that I got to drive his. Up until now I have been a passenger on the back. Quad bikes are not designed for taking passengers but then I don't think that matters when there is a fire and you have to transport people from one place to another fast. (sometimes 3 people on dirt tracks at 50mph). There are no seats for passengers, only bars which means your arse gets really sore. Having never been to prison I have nothing to compare the feeling to but I would assume it would be like having somebody drag you over corrugated Iron on your backside.

After the quad Chas took me, Claudia and Nick back to Enkosini Falls so we could actually go for a dip. After an hour of hiking (mostly downhill) we arrived at the falls. This was when everything began to go pearshaped. Just as we were starting to relax Chas got a call to say that there was a fire at the other side of the Reserve. We had to go back to the main road as quick as possible and wait fot instructions. So the one hour hike downhill now turned into the most gruelling uphill climb I have ever done. I felt like my chest was going to explode - obviously I was bringing up the rear being the old unfit codger (just think of beer I told myself!).

Eventually I got to the road. We (the volunteers) were instructed to go back to the ranger station and wait because the fire was too dangerous for us to work on. We spent the rest of that day in the ranger station listening to the radio for communications on how things were going. They did manage to put the fire out and the next day Mitch took the fence workers to Joberg on an errand while the rangers kept an eye on the burnt area.

Everything appeared to be fine but at 6:30 the next morning we got the f word call again and we all had to go to the far side of the reserve. Another fire had crept round the mountain near to the previous one. Because it was so far up the mountain all we could do was watch and wait until it came down far enough to tackle. While we were waiting another plume of smoke started rising from the North of the reserve - near to the main house. This one was potentially more dangerous than the first one so everyone had to leave to fight it.

We spent the rest of the afternoon battling with this second fire succeeding eventually in getting one side of it out. The other side was creeping down a deep ravine which there was no way to get to - all we could do was watch and hope it would burn itself out.

That left the first one again. Two rangers, Adam and Scott (there are only 3 btw) had been trying unsuccessfully to control the first fire. By this stage Mitch had returned from joberg so we all went back to the first fire to assess the situation. It was nearly 11pm by the time we got back to it. It only took Mitch a second to decide that the wind was too strong and had made it unstoppable. It too was now heading directly for the main house. The only thing we could do was to go to the main house and douse all the buildings with water. From being nearly roasted in the afternoon while tackling the flames we were now to become freezing cold as we turned hoses onto the chalets and other buildings thatched roofs (the only way to get the water pressure high enough for the roofs was to place your thumb over the end of the hose which meant it went over everything - including you).

At 2am, everyone zonked out on the sofas in the main house to try to get some sleep and wait.

At 5.30 this morning Claudia and myself had to be transported back to
the Ranger station to pack as we had to head off to joberg. As we left all we knew was that the rangers were out fighing the fire as it moved towards the house.

At the moment I am writing this post from the comfort of my hostel bed in Joberg. I do not know what the situation is with the two fires (I have no way of contacting them as we did not get time to exchange numbers). I will hope to get an update in the next day. I only hope that the end of my time at Enkosini is not also the end of Enkosini.

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