The granite boulders in the pine plantation must have lain on this hill above Ixopo for tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of years. Yet there they are, shattered. The granite boulders have simply exploded. Why?
A fire starts
One spring, before the first rains, it is hot, and everything is tinder dry. A neighbouring farmer along District Road 64 is burning mealie stalks and the heat of the burning creates a small vortex sucking burning mealie leaves into the air. Some of the burning leaves fall on stony ground, some on dry grass. A tiny grass fire ignites and starts to grow. After a while, more sparks start to fly.
Soon a fire is raging. Fires create their own wind and nature’s breezes help to fan the flames. Now sparks are flying 20, 30, 40 metres into the air. The fire’s power is growing. Soon it can jump roads and firebreaks, streams, and even rivers. Nature unleashed.
By the time the fire reaches our pine plantation it is racing across the tops of the pine trees almost at the speed of the growing afternoon wind. Behind the firefront, the flames crackle downwards into the branches and then down the trunks, feeding their insatiable appetite for the resin of the pine trees and the dry pine needle carpet below. Flying ahead of the flames, tufts of pine needles are blown upwards and forward and are starting new fires. We can feel the heat burning our faces from a hundred metres away.
Cottage – a raging inferno
The roof of our thatched guest cottage soon catches alight, set aflame by the flying burning pine needles. Soon the building is a raging inferno. The fire is literally roaring. Soon the roof falls in. The heat is unapproachable. The cottage cannot be saved. We get busy spraying the roof of the main house which is nearby. Heat, smoke and the sound of the burning is everywhere. We save the house, but only just. Part of the roof has been charred, just saved by the spraying.
The cottage is burned to the ground, leaving nothing but hot, smouldering ash. Afterwards, we discover that even metal objects have been melted to nothing. Not a thing could be salvaged.
The firefront moves on leaving smoke and burning trees in its wake. Soon afterwards it starts raining. Slowly at first. Our tears mingle with the big drops of spring rain. Then it rains harder. After the rain comes the horrible smell of burning. The stench triggers primaeval feelings. As I type this, 35 years later, the smell of the smoke brings tears to my eyes, and I can smell that stink – again.
The next day, we walk where the plantations had been. The ground is still hot, the stumps of many trees are still burning down into the roots.
The huge granite boulders that had lain on and in the ground for aeons have shattered – exploded by the heat of the roaring fire. Flints, chunks, and shards of boulders lying all about. There is no wildlife, no insects no nothing. Just ash and burning stumps.
The restorative powers of nature
We had seen the frightening power of nature unleashed by foolish man. Now we see, in the days and weeks ahead, the amazing restorative powers of nature. Later, the blackness of the charring and much of the ash is gone, washed into the soil by soaking rains. Then green shoots and spring flowers start to emerge, and surviving birds start to sing again. Guinea fowl with their chicks are back on the late afternoon lawn.
Meanwhile, the Mansfields start to count the cost and arrange to get the guest cottage rebuilt. Yes, the new cottage does have a thatched roof.