Far­leigh fi­res: ‘Sanparks did its best to sa­fe­guard com­mu­ni­ty’

Knysna-Plett Herald - - Voorblad -

Sanparks Gar­den Rou­te ma­na­ger, Pad­dy Gor­don has co­me out strongly in de­fen­ce of the bo­dy that ma­na­ges the coun­try’s na­ti­o­nal parks af­ter mem­bers of the Far­leigh com­mu­ni­ty clai­med it was re­spon­si­ble for the de­ath of eig­ht pe­op­le, as sta­ted in a KPH ar­ti­cle last week.

Gor­don pa­tent­ly re­fu­tes t­his claim, sta­ting that Sanparks forms part of a joint fi­re ma­na­ge­ment o­pe­ra­ti­on that al­lows for dif­fe­rent a­gen­cies to com­bi­ne their re­sour­ces and com­pe­ten­cies, and that de­ci­si­ons we­re ma­de by the joint o­pe­ra­ting cen­t­re (JOC) on the day that the fi­re swept through Far­leigh.

“Sanparks was part of fi­re-com­bat­ting de­ci­si­ons ma­de by the JOC that coor­di­na­ted re­sour­ces to all of the fi­res in the a­rea.

“The fi­res in the ca­t­chment a­rea a­bo­ve Ka­ra­ta­ra we­re being ad­dres­sed by the joint o­pe­ra­ti­ons,” re­ads the sta­te­ment, which g­oes on to ex­plain that on the pre­vi­ous Sun­day, the fi­re in the ca­t­chment a­rea po­sed no risk to any com­mu­ni­ty in the a­rea.

KPH re­por­ted that Far­leigh re­si­dents be­lie­ved that had Sanparks re­spon­ded ear­lier or e­va­cu­a­ted them soo­n­er, li­ves could ha­ve been sa­ved. One re­si­dent, Da­vid Qu­een­ton, who is a neig­hbour of the eig­ht pe­op­le who died, was quo­ted saying that Sanparks told them to stay put w­hen t­hey as­ked for as­sis­tan­ce, and that e­ver­y­thing was un­der con­t­rol.

‘The­re was no in­di­ca­ti­on of risk’

“On the mor­ning of Mon­day 29th, the­re ap­pea­red to be a slow mo­vement of the fi­re to­wards the south in the di­recti­on of the sa­w­mill at Geel­hout­vlei,” Gor­don says. “The de­ci­si­on was ta­ken on Mon­day

mor­ning to cre­a­te a­not­her fi­re­bre­ak and do a back­burn from he­re to re­du­ce the fu­el and fi­re risk from spre­a­ding south. A­gain, at t­his point the­re was no in­di­ca­ti­on of risk to Far­leigh/Ka­ra­ta­ra.

T­his fi­re­bre­ak and back­burn we­re car­ried out success­ful­ly ac­cor­ding to plan. W­hat hap­pe­ned af­ter t­his was not pos­si­ble to pre­dict,”the sta­te­ment re­ads, ad­ding that ga­le-for­ce winds pic­ked up and gus­ted to speeds of o­ver 100km/h which cau­sed the very lar­ge Ge­or­ge fi­re to mer­ge with the fi­re in the Ka­ra­ta­ra ca­t­chment. Ac­cor­ding to Sanparks, the in­cre­a­sed in­ten­si­ty of t­his fi­re cau­sed s­parks to be blo­wn se­ver­al ki­lo­me­tres o­ver long stret­ches of in­di­ge­nous fo­rest, which or­di­na­ri­ly acts as a na­tu­ral fi­re­bre­ak.

“The smog (smo­ke and mist) cau­sed by the com­bi­ned fi­res ma­de vi­si­bi­li­ty too low for any a­e­ri­al at­tack on the fi­res. The gusts of winds sped the fi­re through the Far­leigh/Ka­ra­ta­ra a­rea at a ra­te that no fi­re re­sour­ces could com­bat. All Far­leigh fi­re­bre­aks we­re in pla­ce and we­re pre­pa­red ac­cor­ding to fi­re ma­na­ge­ment stan­dards. In ad­di­ti­on, the MTO plan­ta­ti­on a­re­as in the a­rea we­re re­cent­ly cle­ar fel­led.”

“All per­sons we­re e­va­cu­a­ted from Beer­vlei and at Far­leigh … to a cen­tral sa­fe a­rea at the Red­lands P­ri­ma­ry S­chool,” says Gor­don. “In ad­di­ti­on, fi­re plans are dra­wn up an­nu­al­ly and shared with all re­si­dents of Far­leigh and Beer­vlei. T­his plan in­clu­des ge­ne­ral fi­re sa­fe­ty me­a­su­res and a­wa­re­ness. Fi­re sa­fe­ty pos­ters are pla­ced in stra­te­gic pla­ces.”

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