On Sunday, 13 September, our beloved lodge was razed to the ground in a massive fire that started about 15km away from us. The conditions on Sunday were hot, dry, and extremely dangerous with winds of up to 60km/h. The first fires in the district started around 10 am and soon there were fires in every direction. Gwahumbe is surrounded by sugar cane farms and all the farmers were out fighting these fires with full force.
At around 2 pm, we got a call from our neighbour to say that the fire was about to cross the Gwahumbe River and he felt that it was going to head straight for the lodge. He suggested we evacuate. The guests left and the team did everything they could to save our lodge. We wet the rooves with hosepipes, we had buckets in the swimming pool, there were tractors and tankers spraying down the lodge. We soon realized that the heat was becoming too intense and my main concern really was for the team, so we drove out as many of the vehicles as we could physically drive. It took only minutes for the main lodge to burn to the ground. We were then able to go back in and try and save the staff accommodation, which I’m grateful to say we actually were able to do.
The farmers in the area had to continue fighting these through the night. My family came to bed in the small hours of the following morning. A large portion of the Eston/Mid-Illovo area was destroyed that night, with 15 farms burnt. That amounts to about 1700 hectares of land which equates to about 100 000 tons of sugar cane.
The Eston/Mid-Illovo community is a really special place to live in on a normal day, but to see just how selflessly everybody fought for our lodge was incredible. Gwahumbe is a home away from home for lots of local families and many families, farmers’ wives, and their children came to our aid on Sunday. Most of the children didn’t return to school on Monday as they came to help us clear up and commiserate with us. We’ve been absolutely overwhelmed by the love and generosity not only from our immediate community but really from our greater Gwahumbe family. Natal Saddlery has generously spearheaded a hay drive so that we can feed our poor animals. There have been trucks with haybales that just keep on coming through the gate. It’s just been so incredibly heartwarming. A large number of the fences have been burnt, so we’re now desperately trying to re-build these to keep our animals inside. Volunteers have arrived to help us feed the animals and to help us put up these fences. The churches in our area, both the Mid-Illovo and Eston churches have supplied food and Camperdown Spar just keeps delivering endless meals for our entire team. We’ve just been so encouraged by the thousands of special messages that we’ve received, and we really are so grateful to everyone who has reached out to us during this incredibly trying time. Ngiyabonga, Dankie, Thank you.
– Shanon MacKenzie, Owner.