Things began escalating very quickly. The fire had come down from a structure behind the campus and shifted to the upper campus.
CAPE TOWN, South Africa — On April 18, fires loomed at the University of Cape Town.
There were students rushing everywhere, smoke in the atmosphere, and eventually, the library engulfed in flames.
My dad and I were on the other end of the turmoil. We set out to free as many students as possible from the burning inferno.
My dad was driving in that area at around nine that morning. He phoned and said that he could see tiny fires around the mountain.
He is always hands-on to offer help, and I knew he and I would be going to the affected area to assist anyone in danger.
It was not until 1 p.m. that we arrived at the scene. Students had not evacuated, and at first glance, people seemed to be OK.
My dad, my siblings, my mom, and I went in through the back entrance.
I heard staff making announcements that students should start packing their things for evacuation, but there was no cause for alarm at this time.
Then things began escalating very quickly. The fire had come down from a structure behind the campus and shifted to the upper campus.
Security used megaphones to urge students to evacuate quickly. Security guards near the residents started screaming, and they were telling everyone to evacuate.
Some students had managed to pack some things, but others ran out with whatever they had such as their smartphones.
At some point, I was at the residence where an electronic gate failed for some reason and could not open. My family and I had to help students climb over the gate.
My dad was running right by the firefighters’ side, and he was there in front of the flames. There were students having panic attacks, and I tried to help them in any way I could.
It was not just students in turmoil: People from neighboring apartments needed to evacuate. Some were sleeping and unaware of the danger that was looming.
It had been a bit of a mess when students had just evacuated. Many had nowhere to go. Students just stood outside by the roadside.
I tried to see to it that some were able to get food and water. There were at least 200 students there and it was chaotic.
My dad and I offered rides to students who needed to seek refuge in nearby lodgings.
As the adrenaline died down and the situation stabilized, we realized the smoke from the fire affected us.
My dad’s lungs were in a bad state, and he was coughing a lot. My lungs also felt heavy, and I had a sore throat, but the entire family was free from harm.
I felt terrible about the damaged campus and the severely destroyed university library. Before the pandemic, the UCT library was a go-to spot for me.
Knowing we were not the only community members who came out to help students from the burning inferno brought a slight compensation after a treacherous day.
Cape Town came together in crisis and assisted with alleviating the effects of the fires.
By the end of the night, many students had access to shelter and food from strangers.
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