Mabalingwe fire: Dozens of houses, thousands of hectares engulfed

Henry

The devastating wildfire that raged in the Mabalingwe Game Reserve outside Bela-Bela (Warmbad) left at least 56 private houses in ruins and destroyed more than 6,000 ha of pasture.

A forest camp and one time-share chalet were also destroyed in the fire, while another eight private houses were damaged. The impact on animals in the reserve is still being determined. However, the reserve confirmed that rain had started to fall on Sunday evening and that a quick aerial survey by helicopter showed that the wildlife on the reserve had escaped the fire, including the reserve’s elephants. The full extent of the damage that has been caused has yet to be determined and the cause of the fire, which started at around 2pm on Saturday, is also still unknown.

All residents and guests have been taken to safety since Sunday morning and the fire in the reserve has meanwhile been brought under control. However, firefighters are still scrambling to manage the blaze in the greater Bela-Bela area. The extremely dry environment and windy conditions, as well as the mountainous terrain, made for extremely challenging conditions for those fighting the fire.

The devastating wildfire apparently started on a neighboring farm. Strong winds drove the fire and more than 100 fire protection workers and personnel were deployed and tried to contain the fire through Saturday night. However, the wind picked up again on Sunday morning and spread the fire further and caused destruction.

Matie Barnard, manager of the Mabalingwe Common Property Association (MCPA), said they were relieved that there were no deaths. A staff member of the reserve did suffer serious burns when he helped with firefighting efforts on Sunday.

“He was caught in the flames when the wind suddenly turned and he is currently in hospital receiving treatment. No further injuries or loss of life to any of the fire protection workers as well as the visitors or residents were reported, which can be attributed to the coordinated process that led to the timely decision to evacuate the reserve and the communication between the firefighting teams.”

Barnard thanked the reserve’s neighbors for their unwavering support during the crisis and local businesses that provided support to the firefighting teams, which at times included more than 200 individuals.

“The focus is now shifting to the animals’ welfare and steps are being taken to ensure a constant supply of water and feed. A generous donation was received from a veterinary specialist and a helicopter team to complete an aerial survey to assess the situation. Crews on the ground reported seeing many animals moving around the reserve.

“The main concern for the short term is to provide the animals with feed, because they have lost most of the available pasture. We would like to express our gratitude to every staff member, member of the community, local businesses and the public for their actions in the midst of this tragedy; and overwhelming support, assistance, prayers and wishes during this time.

According to Barnard, the urgent need now is for donations to provide support to families who have lost their homes, any requirements for the firefighting teams and for game fodder.

Mabalingwe covers approximately 8,800 ha and has been an established holiday destination since the early 1990s. Mabalingwe has 205 private houses, 105 timeshare chalets, a caravan park and various commercial entities.