Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Today Pamuzinda was almost toast. Literally!

When I first arrived at Pamuzinda, we had a fire in the vlei (dried-up water-course) in front of the hotel, and the wind was blowing it towards the building, so everyone at work that day grabbed a branch and started beating the fire out.

The thing is the hotel is entirely roofed with thatch, so a spark could have sent the whole place up in smoke. Enthusiasm was pretty much the word for it that day . . .

It was such a close thing that we even hauled the cooks out of the kitchen and gave them branches to beat the fire with . . . . . . . .

Combining our thatch roof with fire is something we try to avoid.

In fact, in 2010 the central section of the Lodge had a fire which destroyed the bar, restaurant and kitchen. These were re-built at considerable cost, and much improved the look of the hotel.  But we are very aware of fire.

This morning there was a frantic knock at my door at about 06.30, and a very panicked kitchen porter standing outside informed me "Sir, the hotel is on fire" - my heart stopped beating for a moment or two.

I even said a rude word.

Rushing to the hotel, I found smoke hanging in the air, and Cosmos the waiter and Akim the gardener on top of the roof with a fire extinguisher, the last tendrils of smoke wafting into the cold winter sky. Apparently flames had started pouring from the chimney, and a couple of embers had landed on the thatch - setting it on fire. Akim had tried to connect a hosepipe, but no-one told him that our borehole had burned out the motor the previous day. There was no water.

He then ran to the back of the hotel and grabbed a ladder, and with Cosmos he climbed to the top of the roof in 2 stages. They hauled a fire extinguisher with them, and when I arrived they had managed to put out the fire.

By the time they had managed to set up the ladder, haul it up to the next level, all the while carrying extinguishers, and walk along to the chimney, the fire had been going for about 5 minutes. The flames were about a foot and a half high, and growing.

From the time that the flames had first been noticed to my arrival had been just 5 minutes, and the guys had it under control.

Really impressive.

I called the Parks Manager who arranged for our Fire Bowser to come down to the Lodge - this is a huge water tank with a pump on it. We then  ran a hosepipe to the top of the roof, and thoroughly wetted down the area that had burned.

Unfortunately I didn't take any photos until everything was pretty much under control - but here is my morning, as it happened today . . . .

Framed against the morning sky with smoke still hanging in the air, the 2 gardeners, Akim and Square, hose down the area next to the chimney where the flames had been burning 10 minutes earlier:

The roof is quite high, but Akim and Square didn't seem too bothered,  chatting to their mates on the ground as they were offered advice and encouragment ...

Our Pamuzinda Fire brigade arrived about 6 minutes after being called. This comprises a water tank on a trailer pulled by a tractor, and though it may not be as smart as the Fire Services in London, Paris and Rome, once we start the water pump - it works just perfectly.

In the picture you can see the ladder, which was first used to get onto the lower roof, then hauled up and set up against the apex of the restaurant roof, so the guys could get up to the top.

So here is our Fire Engine . . . . .

The tricky thing is that the pump is not strong enough for us to spray water that high from ground level, so we had to haul the hosepipe up on top of the roof, before we could use it.

This is fire-fighting Pamuzinda-style!

Which sure puts Gangum-style to shame, no?

Square almost knocked Akim off the roof with the hosepipe.

Once the hosepipe was up on top of the roof, it was a simple matter to stroll along the apex of the roof to the chimney where the fire had started.

Then it was a matter of spraying water until there was absolutely no smoke coming from the thatch.

As I observed in my book, any tragedy in Africa - car crash or whatever, is sure to pull a crowd, and a fire on the roof is no exception!

The kitchen and dining room staff happily abandoned breakfast preparations, and they watched Square (one of the gardeners) climb back up the ladder to the top of the roof - half expecting him to come crashing back to earth. At this stage the ladder was balancing on the thatch of the lower level roof. (Thank goodness we don't have Health and Safety Regulations in Zimbabwe, or we would have burned to a crisp!)

Of course, as always, lots of advice and encouragement was offered by the various onlookers.

Everyone in Africa is an expert!

Getting down again was a little more tricky - and to my amazement Square and Akim decided the ladder was too dangerous (which I guess it was as no-one was supporting the base) and they just clambered down the thatch roof.

I am glad they were there - I would have pooped myself if I had had to do that.


At least we saved the hotel. Though another 10 minutes later it would have been toast. But we saved it.

Which means we have to come to work tomorrow!


Have a great day!

(And don't forget you can see all my old posts at the top right of this page - there are almost 200 to date, and we have passed the 40,000 page-view mark.)