A Whattle is believed to have caused a spark when one of its branches touched an overhead powerline causing an unstoppable inferno which had the entire Magoebaskloof pass engulfed in near impenetrable smoke and flames for more than two days.
Large trees were burnt to a crisp and collapsed under their own weight across the road surface sending hot coals and burning embers across the R71 to the forest on the other side. Pretty soon firefighters were up against a fire which had rapidly spread across the roadway and was eating its way up and through the Kloof towards Haenertsburg.
A delivery truck driver was coming down the pass towards Tzaneen on Tuesday morning when the thick smoke obscured his vision causing him to crash his vehicle through the barriers and down into the forest. His truck rolled a few times before coming to a standstill right in the middle of the flames. Soon his fresh produce he was transporting started to boil from the heat. His entire load was lost. He managed to escape with some minor injuries. His truck was towed out of the Kloof that afternoon.
Firefighters from all across the area pitched in to help fight the blaze. Jaco Rautenbach and his team offered support from the ground along with teams from Diggersrest and Letaba Fire Protection Association (LFPA). The LFPA called in air support to fight the raging fires from the skies. In the meantime the girls at AgriLetaba, Naomi Excell and Hanneri van Tonder set out to collect bottled water, cold drinks and food for the firefighters who had spent in excess of eight hours in the scorching heat.
The Incident Commander ordered the Magoebaskloof pass to be closed to traffic and that motorists traveling between Polokwane and Tzaneen be diverted along the Georges Valley R528 road. The pass was subsequently opened and closed three times as the fire subsided only to restart in another area an hour or so later.
By Wednesday morning the fire had been brought under control and the pass safe to traverse once again. LFPA firefighters stayed in the area to monitor the situation but at the time of going to print, it appeared to have been extinguished.
The last time a fire of this magnitude tore through the iconic Magoebaskloof, was in 2006 when a similar incident caused the road’s closure for more than three days.