The devastation of fire notwithstanding, the late January fires in the Groenberg area of the Elgin, Grabouw, Villiersdorp and Vyeboom valleys has helped galvanise the community and given people the opportunity to be their best selves.
“I have no recollection of the timing, or who helped and when, it was a complete war zone”, says Richard Cherry of Cherry Glamping, a tourism offering deep in the Groenberg mountains. “Thank goodness for our Nkandla Fire Pool, also known as the swimming pool on the site, that allowed friends and members of the community to access water nearby to douse the fire,” he recalls. “Even after evacuating our guests and packing up the contents of our tents I still didn’t think the fire would reach us. You know, it’s like in Cricket when you are nine wickets down and you still have 300 runs but you still think you can win. At one point I finally admitted to myself that we were in bigger trouble than expected and we we would likely be burned to the ground.”
Many people in the area had similar fears. Known for its rich soils that supply a large portion of the apples and pears that are grown in South Africa and marketed by Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing, the valley also has many tourist attractions and wine farms not to mention thousands of inhabitants.
“Everyone around wanted to help. Even those who weren’t nearby came to support us. Friends and fellow church members of some of our staff hired mini-busses to get here to help. The show of support was overwhelming and I still want to cry when I think about how much kindness there is around us.” Cherry says.
“I’m so happy to know that we live in a community such as ours, that will come together and even put themselves at risk to help. People literally walked into the flames to help us. I am so overwhelmed with gratitude and appreciation”, he says, his voice croaking a little as he tears up under the weight of the emotion of the experience.
“Thankfully, all the structures were saved and we will be reopening Cherry Glamping in a few weeks. I think what we’ve experienced is mate-ship. Actually, I’d like my children to grow up just like my mates, perhaps drink and swear less, but always help their mates and people around them in need,” he ends.
Cherry Glamping borders the Lebanon community and De Rust Estates.
Paul Cluver, on behalf of De Rust Estates, said: “During this challenging time the true character of our community shone. The De Rust Estate family business is proud and grateful to be part of this incredible community. We would like to express our sincere thanks to all the firefighters, first responders, other personnel, law enforcement officers and, most importantly, to all the volunteers and our fellow farmers. We are truly grateful for the collaboration and the efforts that everyone made to protect our farm, the school and other local businesses. Thank you also to all the individuals and businesses who donated items to the responders and families affected by the fire. Your heartfelt contributions played a huge role.”
Tru-Cape’s marketing director Conrad Fick, a Grabouw resident, was at the coal face. “It was very frightening to see so much fire around us but equally heartening to see a community come together to help. Very inspirational.” he ends.