Phalaborwa fire: 19 minutes ‘then it’s all gone’


For 23 years, Yolinda Sullwald has put her heart and soul into her business enterprise – the Elegance guest house on Phalaborwa in Limpopo.

“It literally took blood and sweat. My fingertips were already bleeding as I worked in that house to move forward.”

Then this three-storey thatched house in Red Ivory Street, with 23 rooms, outbuildings, two lapas and a venue, burned down in 19 minutes on Saturday.

RNews earlier reported that a devastating wildfire broke out just outside Phalaborwa on Saturday before the wind pushed the flames towards the town. A total of 14 houses were reduced to rubble.

The local municipality has meanwhile announced a state of disaster in the town and help is pouring in.

Sullwald tells RNews that the flames initially raged on the opposite side of the dual carriageway (Spekboomstraat) next to the guest house.

An unsuspecting Sullwald was busy in the house when her son went outside around 1:30 p.m. and saw that the roof was on fire. It is suspected that at that stage burning grass blew from the piece of field up to the guesthouse’s roof.

“The fire came through the sky!” explained Sullwald.

Sullwald says that due to the heat of the flames, she sat down in the grass a block away from the guest house and watched as the house her father built burned to the ground.

“You couldn’t get close. My car stood a long way from the house under my marula tree. The back of my car melted from the heat.”

Sullwald says the fact that she and her loved ones were safe kept her calm in those anxious moments.

“This tragedy could have happened in the evening. We could all have died.

“It’s not just me either. There are 14 other families going through the same trauma as me.”

Sullwald says her family and the community of Phalaborwa are supporting her at this stage. “This community stands together and will help where they can.”

Sullwald’s father built the house on Phalaborwa between 1981 and 1983. Her parents initially lived there before Sullwald moved back in 2000 and converted the house into a guest house.