West Cork couple describe the fire that destroyed their South African home

July 20th, 2017 10:15 PM

By Jackie Keogh

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A WEST Cork businessman and his wife have spoken about the horrific fire that destroyed their home and more than 600 other homes and businesses in Knysna, South Africa.

Mel Bendon, who is chief executive of the successful Glenmar Shellfish company, and spends about one-third of the year living in the small South African town with his wife, Jane, spoke of the horror that has been visited on their community.

A once in a 30-year storm arrived into Cape Town and continued up the western Cape and by the time it reached Knysna on Wednesday, June 7th last, it had reached 30 knots.

In an area that had experienced a four-year drought, a lightning spark was all it took to send a fire running across the tops of trees at 100km/h.

Reports recall how people witnessed the fire flashing across the tree-tops as they stood helpless underneath.

Mel told The Southern Star that he and Jane were back at their home in Glandore at the time, but had learned how the fire jumped a 0.5km bridge into Knysna town causing the surrounding bush to ignite.

Mel said housing estates throughout the town – which has a population of just over 50,000 – caught fire and more than 600 properties were completely destroyed.

He said there were ten houses in his estate – including the one that he and his family had lived in for the last 20 years – and they were all burned to the ground, while all but two houses in a nearby 50-house estate were gutted by fire.

The West Cork businessman spoke with great pride of the way the community has responded by offering what help and support they can to one another and he spoke of the bravery and diligence of the fire-fighting crews.

He said it was tragic that eight people had lost their lives in the fire and that wildlife had been left roaming the still smouldering, blacked bush, including some animals that had been blinded and singed by the flames.

While the recovery operation continues, Mel said: ‘The level of support and good wishes that are going around from all walks of life, and the level of support people are showing each other, is absolutely amazing.'

Jane Bendon spoke about the devastation caused by the fire and how friends and neighbours are trying to rebuild their lives and their community.

According to Jane, an estimated 2,200 people have been made homeless, and a further 2,500 are out of a job because their homes and businesses were destroyed in the fire.

Almost all of the homeless are being hosted, or have secured temporary accommodation, but a disaster fund has been set up to assist them.

The account name is: Rotary Club, Knysna / Nedbank Knysna / Branch code: 198765 /A/C no: 1089027257 / Swift code: NEDSZAJJ / Ref: ‘disaster' plus name of donor. 

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