Cara’s question about fixer-uppers inevitably reminded me of the fixer-upping I was involved in with my partners last year.
It was like this. Three of us share a thatched house with a deck overlooking the Olifants (Elephants) River. The bungalow is one of eighty such units which are scattered throughout a private game reserve which borders the Kruger National Park. Since there are no fences, it essentially is the Kruger National Park as far as the animals and other creatures are concerned. Thatch is a beautiful and clever roofing material widely used from Cape Dutch times and still common today. The high peaked roofs allow hot air to rise which keeps the house relatively cool. Often there is a loft with windows to let the hot air escape. Thatch does have its disadvantages however. One is that it wears out and has to be replaced every twenty years or so. Another is that insurance companies don’t like it.
No one is quite sure what happened, but we know one partner left the gas bottle switched on when she left the unit to come home to Johannesburg. This was a mistake, but it shouldn’t have been a disaster. But one of the appliances must have been left on also. Such things have pilot flames. And cooking gas is denser than air so it sinks to the floor and forms a gas lake. If the bungalow had been open, the gas might simply have dissipated. But in the closed up house, the lake slowly filled until it reached the flame...
People in a bungalow across the river heard the explosion which was followed by a fireball rising from the thatch. And thatch is really just dry grass. The staff at the game reserve did their best to save the house, even taking risks to save a few pieces of furniture and the like. But by the next morning nothing was left except ash and the bare, burnt walls.
I remember hearing about it while at dinner meeting. I thought it was a bad joke or some confusion with a minor accident. But on receiving a second call, I realised it was true. The bungalow that had withstood two record floods was no more. It wasn’t really a fixer-upper; we had to start again from scratch. A new design, new features, a new fight with the insurance company, and NO gas. But the new house rose. I think we’ll call it Phoenix.
The new bungalow
Sunset in the river