Last Sunday afternoon, North Gate Lodge, an iconic land mark in Nata village burnt down to ashes.
The uncontrollable fire also ravaged Bigzy Investments (popularly known as Nata Shell Complex), just 50 metres across the road and burnt dow a bar, restaurant and hitch hikers shelter.
The raging inferno that burnt just a couple of metres from the village’s three fuel stations has left many jobless with the damage estimates running into millions.
In interview with The Voice, a surprisingly calm North Gate General Manager Mogopodi Machola said the fire that burnt down their business started outside the lodge.
“It appears kids were playing and set one of the palm trees on fire. It was this tree that eventually started the fire that burnt everything down,” he said.
Machola said palm trees are naturally flammable and on a windy day, kids could not have chosen the wrong time.
“Chunks of burning debris was flown onto some of our thatched chalets and within minutes we were dealing with a raging inferno, as multiple areas were set alight,” he said.
The General Manager said their clients and staff had to be evacuated to a safer place as their efforts to put off the fire bore no fruits.
“The entire stock burnt down including furniture. In the end we lost eight chalets, two family rooms, conference room with a capacity for 60 people, restaurant and the reception,” said Machola.
“This means we’re going to be closed for business for sometime,” he added with a heavy sigh.
Just across the road another business also had to close down after catching fire.
According to the Director of Bigzy Investment (Shell Nata), Lucia Pontsho, the fire across started at around 2pm.
“It was a small fire and we thought they’d be able to deal with it. However the fire grew and I asked some of my staff to take some fire extinguishers to go help at North Gate Lodge,” she said.
Pontsho said the fire proved too strong for the fire extinguishers as more fires seemed to break everywhere.
“It was windy and with no hope of getting help from the Fire Brigade who are stationed an hour away in Sua Pan, we watched helplessly as the lodge was burnt to the ground,” she said.
To her horror Poncho said the strong wind then tossed burning debris across the road to a thatched shelter within her complex.
“Within minutes, the bar was on fire, the restaurant and Manager’s cottage also caught fire and burnt down,” she said.
“Some individuals used this opportunity to get in the shop and stole money from the cash registers. Some looted, taking consumables from a burning shop,” she said, adding that they are still assessing the cost of damages.
The Voice is in possession of a video showing people looting the burning shop.
Nata Police Station Commander Superintendent Vincent Pitseetsile said the fire was reported at 14:30. “We were notified by some police officers who were lodging at the facility.
The Station Commander said from their preliminary investigations they know that the fire was caused by a burning palm tree outside North Gate Lodge.
“We have no idea who burnt the tree, but we are still investigating,” he said.
Another victim of the fire is 75 year old Unangoni Augustine Malikonggwa whose rondavel hut was also destroyed. “We were lucky because we were home when a flaming red palm tree branch landed on our thatch roof. We put out the fire before the house was completely consumed, but as you can see, the damage has been done, we now have a gaping hole on our roof,” he said.
HOW TO PROTECT YOUR THATCH FROM FIRE
While fire can consume almost everything there are ways to protect your thatch or delay destruction from fire.
An expert, Elvis Kebonang of E&E Structures and Thatch says there are products in the market that can be used to protect thatch from fire.
Kebonang who’s also an agent of a South African company Cosmo-Dec Everlasting Coatings says they use Thatch Guard as a fire repellent.
“It is a fire repellent formula and it can give you at leats three hours before the fire burns,” he said.
He said the liquid spray is mixed with a sealant which makes it impossible to wash away even during rainy seasons. “It is important to protect your thatch with Thatch Guard, because today insurance companies are making it a requirement,” he said.