Knysna still at severe fire risk - authorities

2017-06-09 21:00
The burnt-out wreckage of a taxi in a Knysna informal settlement. (James de Villiers, News24)

The burnt-out wreckage of a taxi in a Knysna informal settlement. (James de Villiers, News24)

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Knysna - Authorities have warned that gale force winds expected in the Eden district this weekend could cause flare-ups in fires in the area which have been contained.

This as the Knysna municipality declared the region a local disaster during a special council sitting on Friday afternoon. 

In a statement, Western Cape head of disaster management Colin Deiner said the area is at severe fire risk as wind conditions on Saturday will complicate aerial operations.  

He called on members of the public in the Eden district to refrain from making fires during the course of the weekend. 

“Starting any fire in the conditions expected tomorrow is a risk we cannot afford right now. We must be extra careful right now,” he said. 

Weather conditions on Friday made it easier to bring fires 85% under control, Deiner said.

Roughly 800 firefighters have been deployed to the region with five helicopters water-bombing active fire lines, incident command head Clinton Manuel said. 

On Friday afternoon firefighters were battling flare-ups in Brenton-on-Sea, Elandskraal and Plettenberg Bay. 

Western Cape authorities estimate that 300 buildings have been destroyed by the blaze. 

Water

The Knysna municipality was declared a disaster zone in May due to a water shortage and authorities are urging residents to use water sparingly following the blaze.

A desalination plant in Sedgefield has been commissioned and is operating at full capacity, but is unable to provide water directly to Knysna, provincial local government spokesperson James-Brent Styan said in a statement. 

Bottled water has been arriving in Knysna to remedy the situation. 

Additionally, 30 kVa generators are urgently required to address water and sewage problems in Knysna, Styan said. 

Five fire-related deaths have been confirmed – a family of three, a small child, and firefighter Bradley Richards.

Social media reports suggest that several people are missing in the Eden district following the blaze, but police said they have received no reports of missing people. 

“There has been one individual reported missing, but she was found on Thursday afternoon,” Southern Cape police spokesperson Malcolm Pojie said at a briefing on Friday afternoon. 

Looting

Pojie confirmed that seven people have been arrested for looting property worth R80 000 in Brenton-on-Sea. They are expected to appear in the Knysna Magistrate’s Court on Monday. 

Reports of arson are unfounded and the cause of the blaze is undetermined, Pojie said. 

Municipal spokesperson Fran Kristen asked residents to avoid returning to areas that were evacuated. 

“The fire is contained, should the weather turn we have no idea what will happen. We cannot re-save people who have already been saved,” she said. 

The town is grateful for the flood of volunteers and donations, but the municipality will not accept any additional volunteer firefighters, Knysna mayor Eleanore Bouw-Spies said. 

“We have all the capacity we need, they can go to areas such as Bitou or Mossel Bay where they are needed, but for now [we cannot accept more],” she said. 

Bouw-Spies called it a miracle that the fire didn’t spread towards the Knysna town centre. 

“I haven't been sleeping because you ask yourself how does this happen ... Had it gone any further today we wouldn’t be able to sit here because the situation would’ve been much worse,” she said. 

Read more on:    george  |  weather  |  fires

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