Music from fire: The Fire Fighter Anthem and the big Cape Town fires in March 2015

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The story behind Ike Moriz's fire fighter anthem 'Heroes In Red' (composed on 08.03.2015 in Hout Bay, during the South Peninsula fires in Cape Town, South Africa):

I woke up with a headache in the middle of the night, 2.30am, my mobile was ringing. First thought: Who phones at this time? Second thought: Why did I not set my phone to 'silent'?! It was only then that I noticed the smell. The air was filled with a strong eye-watering smell of smoke - the kind of smell I've gotten used to from years of annual Cape Fynbos fires. However, this time, it smelt like the fire had to be close. When I looked at my phone I saw a couple of messages from concerned friends: "Are you ok?", "Has the fire reached Hout Bay yet, are you safe!" etc. 

At this point I woke up my wife Madri (note to Oscar Pistorius: Yes, that's what you do at the sign of trouble) checked on our baby and told Madri that I was going to go outside to see if we were safe. I immediately noticed a red glow in the distance on this cloudy Monday morning. The wind was blowing strong, so my first concern was that the fire could move fast in our direction. I grabbed the car keys and drove towards the harbour to get a better view of the mountain - from there we have a great view of Chapman's Peak and most surrounding mountains.

Hout Bay CapeFire Heroes In Red Ike Moriz 2015

(photo © Charles Mercer, 2.3.15 www.charlesmercer.biz, 4am)

And this was just the beginning...

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Needless to say that we all had a sleepless night monitoring the progress of the fire and deciding wether to leave to protect the kids and ourselves from the smoke. At this point it was becoming clear that the prestigious 'Tintswalo Lodge' in Hout Bay was probably not going to make it through the night (right in the line of fire in the picture above). The fire had crept in from Noordhoek over Chapman's Peak and down into Hout Bay in a line of fire all the way from the peak down to the ocean.

We spent the next day and night highly alert while communicating with friends and community members to keep informed. The wind was now blowing the fire closer to our house and immediate neighbourhood - creeping down the mountain throughout the day. The whole bay was covered in low hanging clouds and mist, so we couldn't really see how far the mountain had been affected by the fire. Was the whole of Chapman's Peak gone? Only in the early hours of Monday night (2.3.15) it became directly visible from our houses. Another sleepless night was on its way: 

Hout Bay Fire CapeFire 2015 Ike Moriz Fire Fighter Anthem VWS
Hout Bay Fire CapeFire 2015 Ike Moriz Fire Fighter Anthem VWS 2
Hout Bay Fire CapeFire 2015 Ike Moriz Fire Fighter Anthem VWS 3

(photos © Ike Moriz, 2.3.15 Hout Bay view of Constantia Berg)

In the early hours of Wednesday morning (3.3.15) the full devastation of the fire slowly became clear now that the clouds had lifted: Tintswalo Lodge had burnt down as well as the whole of Chapman's Peak vegetation. Many open spaces were filled with residents and tourists alike simply staring at the mountain in disbelief:

Hout Bay Fire CapeFire 2015 Ike Moriz Fire Fighter Anthem VWS 4
Hout Bay Fire CapeFire 2015 Ike Moriz Fire Fighter Anthem VWS 5

(photos © Ike Moriz, 3.3.15 Hout Bay view of Constantia Berg)

We were overcome by a feeling of frustration and sadness about the extent of the destruction. If it hadn't been for all the volunteers and fire fighters, the helicopter pilots, ground crews, the support from local groups like Neighborhood Watch, NSRI, VWS, Community Policing, Hout Bay SAPS, Watchcon (to name a few) - the results of the fire surely would have been even more disastrous. Through social media and other channels Hout Bay residents were connecting to support these groups. When we heard about a lack of Halaal food for the fire fighters and volunteers we dropped off some organic mini meals at the local NSRI headquarters. We were greeted by a room filled with drinks and food that was hastily being distributed to the men & women at the line of fire. The community had really come together to be of amazing support. I think we all felt in awe of these brave people risking so much to protect us and we all wanted to do at least 'something' to return the favour (in a small way). 

Pure organic mini meals cape fire nsri ike moriz hout bay 2015
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Did I mention that this was the hottest day in Cape Town in a hundred years? In fact at the time, Cape Town was the hottest city on earth:

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After a relentless fight of all involved, the fire was finally controlled at the fire-breaks by the time evening came, however, it was still eating its way further north through the mountains as well as further down towards 'Chapman's Peak no.1' who now began evacuating.. This was not over yet and the fire was coming closer and closer to us all…!!

Hout Bay Fire CapeFire 2015 Ike Moriz Fire Fighter Anthem VWS 5
Hout Bay Fire CapeFire 2015 Ike Moriz Fire Fighter Anthem VWS 6

At this point we were all hoping that the wind would not change direction and not drive the fire too close to the massive Imizamo Yethu settlement in Hout Bay (roughly 60000 inhabitants closely living together in shacks and houses). One fire was now moving downwards while the other one was moving further up into the mountains with the wind. At 9pm (3.3.15) I took pictures from the harbour:

Ike Moriz Capefire Hout Bay Heroes In red Volunteer wildfire services
Ike Moriz Capefire Hout Bay Heroes In red Volunteer wildfire services 2

At this point the smoke was entering our house again and we were considering to leave and spend the night in a hotel - as we were worried about our little toddler. Luckily the wind changed direction which made the air breathable (but caused major problems in Noordhoek that had now been declared a disaster area!). The famous Monkey Valley resort was being evacuated and volunteers and firemen alike were fighting relentlessly to stop the flames from destroying the resort. Good friends of ours from Constantia were now also calling for help as the fire had reached several wine farms and residentail areas. Another sleepless night for all of us…

Ike Moriz Capefire Hout Bay Heroes In red Volunteer wildfire services 3 Marilyn Coldrey Monkey Valley

© photo by Marilyn Coldrey, 3.3.15 Monkey Valley

On the morning of the 5th March the unexpected happened: Rain!! It was raining in Hout Bay and it was safe for those who had evacuated to return to their homes.  

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However, over our heads we saw the helicopters racing back and forth - collecting water to drop on the still raging fires in Constantia:

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Groot Constantia reported burning vines on their wine farm; Eagle's Nest lost their Silvertree Forest. The fires still kept burning but Hout Bay was safe for now. 

In the days to come we kept a close eye on the progress of the fire fighters putting out fires all over the Southern Peninsula (Muizenberg, Boyes drive, Constantia, etc.). We were exhausted from worry and sleepless nights - hard to imagine how the volunteers and fire fighters must have felt at this point…!

On the weekend another fire started at Cape Point and again all hands were on deck to get to work. This time a helicopter crashed causing the death of senior fire fighting pilot Willem Hendrik 'Bees' Marais (former SAAF pilot). A shocking blow to us all but especially to his family, friends and co-workers. We had all seen him many times racing above us dropping water on the fires surrounding us. A very sad day indeed. 

I felt like I needed to do something. I wanted to do something, anything, to give back to these amazing heroes who had kept us safe throughout this traumatic week. On that sad day (8.3.15) these words came to me:

heroes in red lyrics ike moriz fire fighter anthem vas 2015

I contacted my friend Paris Zannos from Paris Recording Studios and asked him if I could come in on Monday and Tuesday to record this song and that all proceeds of the single would go straight to Volunteer Wildfire Services (www.vws.org.za). He immediately offered some free studio time and I was on my way to the Fishhoek studio first thing on Monday morning (9.3.15). It turned out Paris himself had volunteered during the week to help put out the fires!! I wanted this to be an anthem honoring the bravery and strength of the Heroes In Red (or in yellow as the VWS wears yellow)! On my way I had to drive via Ou Kaapse Weg which was by itself an inspiration to write a song - it looked like a landcape inside a volcano crater - the fires had destroyed all vegetation there.

heroes in red paris studios fishhoek ike moriz fire fighter anthem vas 2015

On my way back I was the first person of the general public to drive via Chapman's peak Drive who had just re-opened after having been closed due to the fire and winds. The views of this most famous coastal road in the world were 'otherwordly'… 

heroes in red chapman’s peak ike moriz fire fighter anthem vas 2015

The next day I was lucky enough to have legendary guitarist and songwriter Gregory John Schoeman (The Sunshines) with me in the studio who also offered his talent and experience for free to create this anthem for the fire fighters and volunteers. By the end of the day we had finished recording, mixing and mastering the new single and with the help of Mosquito Records London the single was released on iTunes the morning after on 11.3.15 - what an express journey!!

ike moriz heroes in red poster ikemoriz vas cape fire fire cape

Very happy with the result of the recording, we were now all brain-storming how to make the most out of it for VWS. This is when my friend Jurgen from Jar Cafe came on board who offered to help put together a music video for the song. He put me in touch with video editor Wayne Johnstone who got to work right away. Photographers Greg Hillyard and Andrew Hagen (who is himself a volunteer wildfire fighter) kindly gave their permission to use their amazing photographs of Western Cape fires and fire fighters! And today, I'm proud to share this video with you all. Please support the Volunteer Wildfire Services by buying this single on iTunes (or by donating directly to them). I believe that it's our time to give back! Click here to go to iTunes (also available at other web stores like Amazon): https://itunes.apple.com/za/album/heroes-in-red-single/id975819463

PLEASE SHARE THE VIDEO!!

I also want to add here that despite the obvious pain caused by the fire for those losing their lives, their possessions, their houses, their farmland and the loss of animal and plant life, a lot of positive change has come from these troublesome days. People have pulled together and shown how much can be achieved when working on a common goal. Many of us were filled with gratitude to those who fought to protect and save lives. Just 2 weeks after the fire, Monkey Valley resort facilitated a tribute festival to all involved in keeping us safe. 

monkey valley tribute 220315 Ike Moriz 2 steps Kai Derek Gordon

On the day photographers were exhibiting their pictures and musicians and artists were offering their time & talent to entertain the fire-fighters and volunteers. It was a great Sunday (22.3.15) in Noordhoek, and I was happy to be a part of it. Here is a short clip from just after sunset - performing the new Heroes In red anthem:

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