Zille visits fire ravaged Garden Route

2017-06-08 22:12
Helen Zille. (Jackie Kruger, Netwerk24)

Helen Zille. (Jackie Kruger, Netwerk24)

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George - Western Cape Premier Helen Zille has been told during a briefing in George that at least one of the fires that ravaged Knysna might have been started intentionally, Netwerk24 reported on Thursday.

At least 10 000 people were evacuated as the fires, fanned by strong winds, raged from Wednesday through to Thursday. 

Zille was briefed at the Eden district municipality’s operations centre about where exactly the fires had started and the extent of the damage.  

After that, she headed to Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, which is now also under threat.

Small window of opportunity

Gerhard Otto, who heads Eden's disaster management, told the premier that those evacuated in Knysna were being housed in halls and other premises. When the fires started, he said, communication was made difficult because Telkom lines were down and there were problems with cellphone reception. They had to resort to email.

Asked by Zille if any of the fires had been set intentionally, Otto said they suspected that arsonists had been responsible for the one at the Kruisfontein plantation. “We are investigating,” he said.  

During the information session, Otto also revealed that a fireman from Plettenberg Bay had sustained 70% burns.  He is being treated in a George hospital. Three people – a couple and their son - died earlier in the day of smoke inhalation at their home in the Elandskraal area.

On the fire fighting efforts, Otto said there had been a small window of opportunity on Thursday when the wind had died down a bit, but the SANDF’s air support hadn’t been on the scene yet.

Large settlements

Among those evacuated were patients at the Knysna Hospital, who were moved to the George Hospital.

The Knysna Hospital itself didn’t burn and should be operational again by Monday, Otto said. Most of the areas surrounding Knysna were without electricity. 

Zille said it was a blessing that large settlements outside Bitou had escaped the flames. She also said the fires were a “freak” occurrence.

"There are people who have lost everything."

Read more on:    helen zille  |  knysna  |  fires

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