7 June 2017 – A ravaging fire started in the Garden Route and left a town and its surroundings devastated and in ashes. At the crack of dawn on 16 June Mark Robson and I took the road to Knysna with a trailer full of donations given from the heart by Hermanus residents with the help of Overstrand Fire and Rescue. As many of you may not know, Mark is a volunteer Chaplain to the Greater Overberg and Overstrand Emergency Services.
We did not quite know where the road would lead us, but we just wanted to make a difference somewhere, somehow. I was somewhat discouraged that day due to a post on Facebook by an unknown person who wrote about the help given by Christians in this time of need and how one does not need to be a Christian to make a difference or lend a helping hand. He felt that all this Christian online public support and prayers is “not Christian behaviour”. Due to this I felt that I would not post anything about our experience in Knysna…. but I really need to as God’s amazing grace in this time by far exceeded the devastation. This is exactly what the world does need to hear and learn by.
We arrived in Knysna…black and smoke filled air after a week of fire….people sad….we had no words. Our first stop was the Knysna Fire Department where Mark met the Fire Chief and Disaster Manager. They were emotional and exhausted, but were relieved to talk to someone about how they felt and experienced it all. Second stop was a church where we dropped off all the donations. I was stunned by the way everything was organised! The whole community just stands together. Millionaires and squatters….all suddenly on the same level having lost everything. Where ever we went in Knysna people are all asking one another if they are alright, do they need help in any way… amazing! Thereafter the emotional trip started….driving up to Knysna Heights…..
No words or photos can describe the devastation. We met interesting people on our journey through this suburb of Knysna….first a man who’s house was saved, not a scratch, but all the houses around them have burnt to the ground. How did he feel….ANGRY, because the municipality had not yet started to remove the rubble around them. To them it is horrible to have to live this way….and thinking of all the construction that was to happen in the future really made him upset. Well I suppose it is a normal way to feel, but at least his house was saved and that alone is so much to be thankful for.
We then met a younger couple…their house was also in tact, but they were exhausted having had to fight the fire away from their house and also protecting their neighbour’s houses who were not there. At the time we were there, the house across their’s was smoldering and the gentleman instantly grabbed their only drinking water and started to extinguish the burning part of the garden.
We drove further up towards the highest street where the most damage was….how sad to see. People moving through the ashes of their once beloved homes, trying to still find a few of their precious belongings. Tears. Lush green streets become brown ashy streets….little monkeys and birds seeking for fruit.
Our last stop for that day was the one that I will treasure in my heart for the rest of my life. We stopped at a house which was totally totally burnt to the ground. Once a 3 story mansion. Nothing left. We then heard a lady say “thank goodness you are here…. I was so so stressed. My house is up there, my husband is in a wheel chair, everything around us burnt down, our house still okay, but please help, there is a flare up…” Mark, who was dressed in his Chaplain uniform, was seen as a fire fighter who could save her from another sleepless night, trying to protect all she had. Luckily the “flare up” was only a smoldering peace of wood. But the reason she was so stressed was: She and her husband could not evacuate to Thesen Island along with all the other residents, as he has kidney failure and is trapped in a wheel chair and the house! He cannot get down from the house! There was no one who could help her get them out of the house. He could not help her protect their wooden house. All that they could do was pray and pray. And how amazing was God….everything around them had burnt to the ground, even their lush garden, but their WOODEN house was not touched by a flame! Glory to God! The miracle of prayer! They are all alone, as their children live abroad and all phone and cell phone communication was destroyed by the fire. She was much more relaxed once we had left and even her husband’s tame Knysna loerie came to pop in.
Our second day was spent in Plettenberg Bay who also endured a lot and where a brave volunteer fire fighter Bradley Richards lost his life. It was a privilege to have met his brave partner, Ian Barnard, who was also severely hurt. He has a long way of healing ahead of him. The Fire Chief of Bitou Municipality was also exhausted and was relieved to chat to Mark.
A visit to Belvedere, Knoetzie, Pezula Estate, Brenton on Sea, Buffels Bay just left us speechless. Where do you even start to rebuild everything. In the middle of Belvedere (where my brother’s in-laws sadly also lost their home) the Holy Trinity Church remained steadfast. The lovely prayer grounds around the church however do have a lot of damage. A feeling of peace and serenity filled me whilst sitting quietly in the church grounds, only hearing the sound of a single dove.
Although we were not able to make earth shattering differences by being in Knysna, perhaps we only made a difference to the one lonesome stressed elderly couple. It meant the world to them that someone just came around for tea a second time. We will definitely keep in contact with them.
I once again realized that in times of (any) devastation, by making the smallest difference in someone’s life who cannot pay you back makes an earth shattering difference in your own life. Personally Mark and I have become richer people feeling more appreciative of all we have after being so close to people who have lost their whole world.
Knysna is on the way of rebuilding itself to the lovely lush green Garden Route town it once was, but still need enormous help and prayers (of which I know and have seen make such a difference) . Two years ago my family and I visited Knysna and saw this verse on a stone on East Head: “Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is Mighty. (Ps 93:4). I trust that these Words will be a reality to the town of Knysna.
Our trip would not have been possible by the kindness by Hermanus people: Ds Corne Kemp from the Dutch Reformed Church in Hermanus who organized a trailer and diesel from Engen Sandbaai (Gina Coetzee), the support of our own Fire Chief from Overstrand Fire and Rescue and to the unknown person who arranged accommodation for us at an amazing guest house in Wilderness, Xanadu, an enormous THANK YOU! Know that your contributions have made a difference too!