Knysna community rally behind fire victims

2015-05-10 11:33

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Knysna - The Knysna community has rallied behind business owners who suffered losses after a fire swept through Thesen Island’s iconic Boatshed building this past Wednesday.

The property went up in flames during load shedding at about 20:00 and the fire quickly spread due the timber construction of the building.

Local firefighters managed to extinguish the fire late on Wednesday night, but not before several businesses suffered damage, including the popular Ile de Pain restaurant.

The brunt of the damage was however suffered by CMAI Architects, whose founder and director Chris Mulder was instrumental in developing Thesen Islands in the late 1990s. 

“I was actually in the building when the fire broke out and phoned authorities to assist. I tried to extinguish the fire as best I could, but it spread very fast and at one stage I realised that I needed to leave as I was in danger of either getting stuck or injured,” one of CMAI’s directors Eugene Marais said on Friday.

He added that the local fire department responded immediately and managed to limit the damage. “The people of Knysna also had a hand in that. They all came together and helped out where they could. They assisted with the evacuation and trying to save as much as they could. People grabbed hoses and started extinguishing the flames. Knysna had a town full of fire fighters that night.”

Marais said they however lost “everything”.

“Our offices were completely gutted and everything inside it was destroyed. Most of the other offices mostly suffered heat, smoke and water damage.”

“Now after the fire, the people of Knysna have not stopped caring. People have been giving us a chair here and a place to sit and work there. So despite the losses we are able to work.”

Almost ready

While the local authorities have condemned the building until it is structurally sound and safe for occupancy, Marais said they should be able to meet the requirements within the next few days.

“Everyone should be able to get back to work from Monday.”

Interior designer Jo Pieters, whose office is also located in the Boatshed, said she was also overwhelmed by the community support.

“People just jumped in and helped me get everything out of my office, my drawings, my furniture, everything. They managed to get everything out in minutes, which is a great feat as it took my seven hours to get everything back inside,” Pieters said.

She added most of the damage to her office was due to smoke, heat and water.

Owners of Ile de Pain restaurant, Liezie Mulder and Markus Farbinger, were out of town at the time of the fire, but also thanked the community for the support.

“Thank you for all your good thoughts and wishes. We will just grow stronger with such enthusiasm and support. Love, trust and have faith in life. Markus, Liezie and the entire team,” they said on their Facebook page.

Marias said the Boatshed was of historical value to the town as it was built in the 1940s for building boats. Among the vessels built there were the 1940’s to accommodate the construction of vessels for the World War II including Fairmile patrol boats and submarine chasers. After the war boat construction continued including the National Sea Rescue Institute’s first vessel as well as some of South Africa’s top racing yachts.

It was however destroyed in a fire in 1966, but was soon thereafter rebuilt and served as a plywood store until it was repurposed as an office building in the late 1990s.

Knysna fire chief Clinton Manuel said that an investigation into the cause of the fire was still under way. 

Read more on:    george  |  fires
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