Daniella Potter
4 minute read
10 Jun 2017
7:00 am

Knysna disaster: Stories of hope from ashes

Daniella Potter

Group battled flames with water jugs and buckets.

Penny Mainwaring's house survived the blaze. Picture: Supplied

Rising from the ashes of the devastating Knysna fire are stories of hope.

And those stories transcend race, gender and age, reminding us we are all the same.

Ella Mapurisa’s brave act of fighting off the flames from her Emzini Tours business partner Penny Mainwaring’s two Knysna houses is one of these stories. It began on Wednesday afternoon as the fire spread rapidly, spurred by the gusty winds.

Mapurisa rallied the support of five of the “strong, young men” – who are mentored by the safe houses that Emzini Tours started in the Knysna township – to help those affected by the fire in town. Then, they checked on Mainwaring’s house in Phantom Village, where the fire was starting to burn.

They quickly set to work evacuating the house and, as the fire was moving fast, they had to decide what the most important items were and remove them. Driving away, Mapurisa said they could see the flames and could barely breathe in the smoke-filled car.

She described her amazement the next morning when she discovered the house had not been burnt. “It was a miracle,” she said, as the fire had stopped in front of the house. Sadly, she said, the neighbour’s property, which they had also tried to rescue, had been burnt.

After dropping off furniture from the Phantom Village house in the township, Mapurisa and the mentees journeyed to Paradise where they found the fire was burning.

Mainwaring described how she told them to smash the window. “They said, ‘Ms P, are you sure, you want us to smash the window? I said, ‘Smash it!’”

One of the smaller boys climbed through the window and put the alarm off.

“You need to try and find our passports, IDs, all the documents for the kids in the safe house are here in the office and our hard drive for all of our safe house kids and our business is here, so I told them, they need to find the hard drive,” she said.

Mapurisa said suffocating smoke had already filled the house as they tried to remove the belongings and she believed the house was on fire. They grabbed essential documents and fled.

Later, on realising they had left the house open, they returned to find nothing had been stolen but the flames were still approaching.

“We started to fight the flames with water jugs and buckets. There was no electricity because the main box also burnt but we managed to fight the fire,” she said.

In an event Mapurisa calls “a miracle”, the flames stopped before they reached the house.

They stayed up all night fighting the flames and helping others, only resting from 3am to just before 6am on Thursday morning. “It was very scary,” she admitted, but they only suffered scratches and minor injuries.

Mainwaring described Mapurisa and the mentees’ acts as “fantastic”, saying yesterday: “I went back to my house in Phantom Village this morning and I just couldn’t believe it and the tenant there said to me, ‘They were just fantastic. I just took my clothes and went and when I came back they had taken everything out of the house for me.’”

She said smouldering coals surrounded her Phantom Village house and were even on the veranda and on the grass bank, but “the house didn’t burn”. “Everybody here says, ‘God has had his hand on your things’,” she added. None of their business’ safe houses were damaged in the blazes and the people in them were safe.

Now, Mapurisa said, they were helping to clean up and assist those in need “to get on their feet”. Mainwaring said, “Everyone is in survival mode.

This is like Survivor: we need in the house now just fire and water to cook and drink. Those are your two vital things.”

Mapurisa described the community spirit of everyone helping one another, saying: “People were working together, and we are still all together trying to help, and it’s not a matter of who you are, where you live or what colour you are.”

Mainwaring added: “In the racist country that we live in, these are my Xhosa friends that did this for me. When there is disaster, it doesn’t matter what colour you are, everybody pulls together.”

– Caxton News Service

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