Living and working in the centre of the raging Cape fires in March was like being inside a Laphroaig whisky bottle on an airfield in a war zone; the air was thick, smoky and peaty, and there was the constant roar of choppers overhead as they collected water from community pools to try to douse flames storeys high. The sound of sirens was ever present and there was a strong feeling of fear, sadness and desperation.
And then, as people watched firefighters, Working on Fire and Volunteer Wildfire Services rushing into fires, forming a human wall between the fire and their homes, they started to get inspired. They went from words of support and admiration, to action; flooding command centres and fire stations with food, water, medical supplies, manpower and anything and everything else they could think of. Local high school students, evacuated for their own safety, went straight to volunteer centres to offer their help in fighting the fires wherever they were needed.
Local businesses were not far behind, donating large sums of money to help fund the fight (the cost estimated at R1 million a day), clearing litter from fire sites, helping to search for injured wildlife, or helping deliver collections from all over the Cape. A radio drive to raise funds collected a staggering R3,1 million in a matter of hours from Cape Town and Joburg.
All funds raised go towards providing equipment and resources needed by volunteer fire services to keep fighting future fires across the Cape.
Much as the Fynbos ecosystem needs to burn every 15 years to spread its seeds and regenerate, a tragedy like this sows its own seeds of renewal. As devastating as this week of fire has been, there has been a pulling together of a usually segmented population, working with no politics or division of purpose, and an appreciation for the sacrifice of others that I haven’t seen in years.
That is what will stay with me from this experience, and no doubt return to me whenever I sip Laphroaig in the future – the spirit of community that grew as fast as the flames spread. Over 2 000 people worked together to keep my business, my home and my family safe. I have never been so proud to be part of the Cape Town community.
Author: Kevin Phillips CA(SA) is Managing Director of idu Software