The fire had leaped the white bridge over the lagoon and was burning its way through the forested valleys and hills, devouring houses, animals and cars in its terrifying wake.

The fire was out of control. The small town of Knysna did not have enough fire fighters, and helicopters could not fly in the dark, and anyway the wind was far too strong for them. It was hopeless.

Bulelwa stepped outside again. All around her, people had left their houses. She ran to their front doors and hammered hard. No-one answered. She called for help but only the moaning and raging wind answered. She could hardly see more than a few feet in front of her. She could hardly breathe.

In desperation Bulelwa tried one more time to send a WhatsApp to Mudira. She only wanted to know that she was safe. She had tried a few times over the last few hours. There was no reply. It was no good. All communications were down. MTN was down.

Running up the ridge, Bulelwa stopped in terror at the sight before her. It seemed that Knysna was ringed with fire. The lagoon was encircled with flames. The fire was everywhere. She stepped back in horror as she realized that the fire was now right beneath the houses where she lived, and it was climbing the hill towards her with giant flaming strides.

Bulelwa turned and ran back into the house, shutting the door firmly behind her.

Inside, the room was smoky and Bulelwa could hear Gogo coughing. She ran into their shared bedroom and pulled open a drawer. The smoke and dark made her blind but she rummaged through the contents until her searching fingers came upon what felt like one of Gogo’s asthma pumps. She pressed it and with relief felt a wet spurt against her fingers. She rushed back to Gogo and applied the pump. Gogo took a deep breath and nodded.

“Better,” she said. “Better.”

Glancing through a window Bulelwa could see, suddenly and clearly, the glow of flames licking the walls of a house close by. She sank down onto a couch in the lounge and dropped her head into her hands.

“Think!” she said fiercely to herself. “Think!”


Tell us: Have you any ideas of what Bulelwa could do in this dangerous, fiery situation? Should she have left, saved herself?