Fire reports raise more questions
The release of AfriForum’s independent report on the cause and origin of the 7 June fires has caused many residents of Knysna, and interested parties from elsewhere, to question the official cause and origin of the fires as released by the Knysna municipality.
In short, fire chief Clinton Manuel found in his report that the fire was caused by human activity, when flammable material was introduced into the Elandskraal area - pine cones were found where no pine trees grew and stacked fuel such as planks were found nearby. He stated that weather conditions on the day fuelled this fire along.
In contrast, the AfriForum report – compiled by forensic scientist Dr David Klatzow – states that a lightning strike in the Elandskraal area months before caused underground smouldering which, fuelled by weather conditions on the day, flared into a full-blown blaze. This opinion is shared by several other people, notably the engineer and scientist Dr Wallace Vosloo.
Klatzow said in his report, “Of concern is the timely and repeated warnings given to the authorities regarding this fire. It appears that these warnings did not result in any action being taken. Prompt fire prevention methods such as water bombing and ground crews may very well have averted this western fire catastrophe.”
In response to AfriForum’s report, Knysna municipal manager Kam Chetty said it is unfortunate that Dr Klatzow’s report apportions blame to the municipality. “The report is onesided. Our investigation examines a number of probabilities including the possibility of lightning strikes in making our conclusion,” Chetty said.
“It is of great concern that Klatzow is blaming Knysna municipality for the fire. Our report is not to refute smoulder (sic) or apportion blame, but based on evidence on the ground.”
He explained that the municipal investigation was based on scientific methodology which included a thorough analysis of aerial and ground evidence and eyewitness accounts. “Our investigation examined burn patterns and in the context of changing weather that prevailed during the fire. Based on the examination of all the evidence it remains our finding that the fire of June 7 was primarily caused by human activity in Elandskraal.”
Reint Dykema of AfriForum said it is important to note that there are currently four reports: the municipal report, the AfriForum report, a report being compiled by Vulcan Wildfire Management for the Western Cape government, and engineer Dr Wallace Vosloo’s report which focuses specifically on the Elandskraal fire.
Dykema said that Klatzow had discussed the Elandskraal fires with Vosloo, and after analysing and agreeing with the data, Klatzow used it in his report for AfriForum.
No on-site visit
It appears that Klatzow never visited the area where the fire started. According to Dykema, Klatzow watched drone footage taken on 22 June and considered other videos and photos that were taken in the area where the fire started.
Klatzow’s opinion is that the fire started in the area where lighting had struck and smouldering continued for weeks.
Regarding Chetty’s statement about Klatzow blaming the municipality, Klatzow said he received instruction to find the cause or causes of the various fires, and because there are currently so many different interpretations, he requested via AfriForum that Western Cape premier Helen Zille launch a commission of inquiry.
Vosloo has said that although he agrees with Klatzow’s report, he would like to see the full version of the municipal report in order to consider their findings properly.
According to him the presentation made by Manuel to the press did not contain all the information that was gathered and this information might shed some light on the municipality’s findings.
Knysna fire chief Clinton Manuel
Forensic scientist Dr David Klatzow