Burn it down! Friday evening spent protecting our lapa - photo and videos

This is a yearly occasion. I thought maybe for the first time in 15 years we had manage to skip this annual event. When I eventually made my way home after a long day at the shop, I knew how Friday night would be spent. Sigh. And this year there was an unfortunate twist.

(This is what I saw on my way home.) 

(Smoke and fire glow when I pulled into my driveway.) 

I had a good day at the shop on Friday, despite the unrelenting heat. Yes, spring for us in South Africa began on 1 September, but already the heat can be described as oppressive. There has also been very little rain, despite a brief flash flood just before winter began. I went to the supermarket, and to deposit some of the shop takings in the cash accepting ATM. Which promptly malfunctioned and swallowed my money without crediting my account for the third time this year! On Monday I will have to spend hours at the bank sorting it out, again. But that is another story. Eventually, on my drive home, I saw the hills behind our house were on fire, and it was moving fast. 


(The lapa which has to be protected.)
Usually the veld (a South African term for grassland) burns in June/July. We have to be careful and vigilant about the first burn as we have a thatched structure (we call a lapa) adjoining a rock wall that separates our property from the one next door, which has been undeveloped for the 15 years we have resided here. There have been enough lapas in our town which have been transformed into flaming torches for us to know what will happen if even one stray spark lands on this thatch roof structure. Usually we cut a channel along the wall on the empty property so the long grass doesn't come exactly to the wall. This is done using an african bush knife, called a panga. This year we kept on putting it off, so it wasn't done.

The fire was moving a little slower than expected. I quickly took a couple of before photos of the grassland it was heading towards. The wind was picking up, but it was gusty rather than steady. On Saturday it was blowing a gale, so we actually dodged a bullet there. The hosepipe was lying outside ready, as it had been for the last three months. So we just had to wait for the fire to get near enough to us, and then we started to thoroughly wet the lapa's thatch roof. My husband did most of the hosepipe duty this year, but it is a kind of whoever chore in general. (It was supper time and I was helping my daughter with preparing the meal, with many breaks to take photos!)

The water from a single hosepipe was enough to protect out lapa, but it required standing outside for 2 hours! We had a small scare when the grass outside a small shed on the top of our property caught alight, especially as it is used to store wood!!! And we only have one hosepipe. I had my poor 12 year old son run up and down the many stairs, bringing me buckets of water, with which I extinguished that little fire. Eventually the fire moved far away enough for us to feel secure enough to come inside, but I heard constant crackling for many hours afterwards. Little did I know this crackling signified yet another problem.

After our valiant fire fighting efforts, supper was dished up and greedily consumed. Aaaah time fore a blissful bath. And....NO WATER AT ALL! We figured the fire had damaged a water pipe somewhere. We had a few 5l bottles of drinking water. (Our tap water in South Africa really doesn't taste good anymore.) I emptied one into the bath and flailed around in 2cm of cold water. At least I was mostly clean, but the state of my hair freaked me out. Even worse, I had to go to work with my smoky hair scraped up into a bun. I wouldn't classify myself as vain, and I can leave the house with no make-up without a second thought, but I am finicky about my hair!


(You can still see the channel we cut last year next to the wall. The problem is this grass is still a fire hazard, so we will have to cut the section we wet and that didn't burn.) 

Upon leaving my yard for work on Saturday morning, I immediately saw the cause of our water being off. We had a massive fountain outside our yard. I briefly considered taking a shower in the road...hahaha! Then I panicked at the obviously huge water loss, especially as we are experiencing a drought. It took almost two hours for me to find the correct place to phone to deal with the issue, as it is a municipal problem. There might be arguments later about my water bill, so I took a video of the problem. For the first time ever the fire had curled around into the vegetation in front of our yard and had melted the water pipe! It also sadly burnt our ivy and bougainvillea, but I think they should recover quite quickly when we eventually get some rain! The water was turned off quite quickly, but they could only repair the water pipe close to the evening. (As apparently there were other burst pipes to see to!) The hot bath I had would have been bliss. But then I detected a smell. For those  who read the last blog about the rat in my bathroom and are aware a rat or field mouse was loose in my bathroom, well it expired under my bath somewhere. And it has been hot.

Thankfully today we have light drizzle and much cooler weather. The drizzle will help enormously in damping down the never-ending black ash, which is a nightmare to clean for weeks to come! Another year, and another flaming torch of a lapa averted!


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