Fires in Nelson Mandela Bay are under control, according to officials on the scene.
At 11am several bush fires were burning across the Bay in areas such as Van Standens, Rocklands, Schoenmakerskop, Elands River area.
The massive fire at Van Stadens prompted emergency services to close the N2 early on Saturday morning due to poor visibility caused by smoke.
By 10:30am the road had been reopened while fire fighters and emergency services continued to battle the blaze.
Municipal spokesman Mthubanzi Mniki said that in one instance, Woodridge College had been evacuated this morning due to smoke and not due to the school being on fire as was said on social media.
At 11:30am, Mniki said that a Joint Operations Control Centre had been setup at the Woodridge School entrance in the Van Stadens Gorge area.
“ The team on site is pleased to share that the farming community and VWSA have joined in to assist with the resources they have such as tractors, water tankers and general fire fighting tools. We can confirm for now that Woodridge school is safe,” he said.
“No injuries or damage to property has been confirmed as yet. Strong winds continue to make conditions difficult for the teams on site.”
Mniki appealed to residents to not go to the fire areas.
“Other fires in other areas remain under control,” he added
Since Tuesday, the fire in the Van Stadens area has been burning, destroying eight homes in the Van Standens Gorge area – several kilometres from the college.
Parts of the fire then spread across the Lady Slipper Mountain near to Eelands River, where it is still burning.
Asked about the Woodridge fire, Mniki said that the gusting winds during Saturday morning and Friday night had fanned the fire causing it to spread.
However, early this morning, chaos erupted on social media with various people calling for help to assist with the evacuation and moving of animals in the Van Stadens area.
Shortly before 7:30am a panicked voice note was circulated on Whatsapp and social media by a woman asking for anyone with horse boxes to get to Woodridge College to assist with relocating horses.
“This is an emergency call out to anyone with a horse box to please to Woodridge. Woodridge is burning down and all their horses have had to be let loose and (have run) into the reserve, which is now on fire. It is really dire. We need as many hands as possible to help catch and bring horses,” the voice note said.
Several residents and neighbourhood watch groups rushed to the call for help and managed to save all 30 horses which have been moved to a riding club and a farm in the Rocklands area.
By 8am all the pupils and on-site staff at Woodridge College had been evacuated to Baywest Mall where family and friends met up with them.
The college houses several boarders at various hostels across the school grounds – which borders the Van Stadens area.
In several videos taken by pupils while being evacuated, the raging fire can be seen alongside the road with visibly excited children screaming at others in amazement.
The videos show several large fires bordering the roadside as the buses pass to safety.
Grade 12 pupil Bevin Potgieter, 18, said that the fire and smoke alarm sounded shortly before 7am prompting everyone to follow fire drill procedures.
“Everyone met at their assembly points and from there were taken to the buses and escorted out. There was thick smoke everywhere and we managed to grab some valuables before leaving,” he said.
“I was the last student there and luckily everyone managed to get out.”
Pupils and teachers left the school in about six buses, while the smoke covered the school and fire bordered the school grounds.
“The flames were jumping over the bus. It was a big fire,” Grade 12 pupil Sean Darnborough, 17, said.
“I would not say it was chaos but a mixture of excitement and panic all at once. We really did not even have time to think, it happened so quickly. You just take what you can and go. There is really no time to even think what is happening.”
Sean said that when the siren sounded, they assembled in the nearby quad where roll call was done.
“We then went back quickly to grab only small items before meeting in the field,” he added.
Several students in different buses confirmed that while driving out of the school, and between the fire, several students started reading their bibles.
Grade 9 pupil, Jordyn Howard,15, said that the evacuation comes only three days after all the learners were told of a possible evacuation.
“We were told that there might be an evacuation in the week already so we knew it was possible. The evacuation in the week was later cancelled as the fire did not make it to the school. Some of us had our stuff still packed while others had already unpacked their belongings,” he said.
“We could only take small items with us and I managed to grab my guitar.”
Howard managed to get a phone call to his parents during the panic.
“I was in a panic. We were getting ready to leave for Kenton-on-Sea anyway to come through to watch a rugby match when he called,” Howard’s mother Hayley said.
“We were told that they were all being taken to Baywest Mall so we rushed straight here,” she said. “It is not a nice phone call for any parent to get.”
Gareth Wilson – HeraldLIVE