Con­tro­ver­sy sur­rounds Knys­na fi­res

Oudtshoorn Courant - - VOORBLAD - S­te­fan Goo­sen s­te­fan@grou­pe­di­

T­he­re is a dis­tinct dif­fe­ren­ce be­t­ween two re­ports con­cer­ning the cau­se of the de­va­sta­ting Knys­na fi­res. The first re­port was gi­ven last week by Knys­na fi­re chief, C­lin­ton Ma­nu­el. The se­cond one, by fo­ren­sic s­cien­tist, Dr Da­vid Klat­zow, was re­le­a­sed this week. The mu­ch­pu­bli­ci­sed re­le­a­se of the re­port by ci­vil rig­hts or­ga­ni­sa­ti­on AfriForum on the o­ri­gin and cau­se of the Ju­ne 7 fi­res has cau­sed a rum­pus on so­ci­al me­dia cas­ting as­per­si­ons on the the cre­di­bi­li­ty of Knys­na fi­re chief C­lin­ton Ma­nu­el’s of­fi­ci­al re­port.

The re­port was re­le­a­sed on Tu­es­day, Au­gust 22 at AfriForum’s he­ad of­fi­ce in Kloof­sig, Cen­tu­ri­on.

Com­pi­led by fo­ren­sic s­cien­tist Dr Da­vid Klat­zow, the re­port co­mes af­ter Ma­nu­el’s fin­dings we­re re­le­a­sed to the me­dia last week, which fu­el­led se­ver­al ot­her o­pi­ni­ons, al­so dis­pu­ting Ma­nu­el’s the­o­ries.

Furt­her­mo­re, two out­spo­ken mem­bers of the pu­blic, Mor­né Jon­ker from Oudts­hoorn and Rit­chie Mor­ris from the E­lands­kraal a­rea, ha­ve pu­bli­cly dis­tan­ced them­sel­ves from Ma­nu­el’s fin­dings al­to­get­her.

Jon­ker said he flew o­ver the a­rea that is dis­pu­ted as the o­ri­gin of the fi­re in May this y­e­ar, and no­ted smo­ke cau­sed by smoul­de­ring. Mor­ris was fre­quent­ly men­ti­o­ned in Ma­nu­el’s re­port.

Dif­fe­rent a­rea

A­mong Klat­zow’s fin­dings, is that one of the fi­res that led to the wi­de­spre­ad de­structi­on was cau­sed by a fi­re that had been smoul­de­ring for a few weeks af­ter lig­ht­ning had struck a part of the in­di­ge­nous fo­rest in the E­lands­kraal a­rea. Both Jon­ker, Mor­ris, and a Dr Wal­la­ce Vos­loo are of the sa­me o­pi­ni­on.

Alt­hough Klat­zow agrees with Ma­nu­el on E­lands­kraal being the o­ri­gin of the first fi­re, he dif­fers com­ple­te­ly on the spe­ci­fic si­te and cau­se of the fi­res. He be­lie­ves a lig­ht­ning stri­ke and the sub­se­quent un­der­ground smoul­de­ring that fol­lo­wed cau­sed the fi­re – fu­el­led by the wind con­di­ti­ons on Ju­ne 7, w­he­re­as Ma­nu­el be­lie­ves pi­ne co­nes broug­ht in­to the a­rea to use as fi­re­lig­h­ters we­re the cau­se of the fi­re, al­so eg­ged on by the s­trong wind con­di­ti­ons.

Ma­nu­el’s re­port com­ple­te­ly dispel­led the no­ti­on that the cau­se of the fi­re was an “act of God”.

Six fi­res co­ni­de­red

Ac­cor­ding to his re­port, Klat­zow con­si­de­red six dif­fe­rent fi­res: the e­as­tern fi­re in Knys­na, which ac­cor­ding to the re­port in­ci­den­tal­ly star­ted in a fo­rested a­rea kno­wn as Dam-se-Bos; the we­stern fi­re in Knys­na, which o­ri­gi­na­ted in the E­lands­kraal a­rea and was cau­sed by lig­ht­ning on A­pril 12, 2017; the fi­res on the we­stern si­de of the Knys­na La­goon, which cau­sed da­ma­ge to B­ren­ton-on-Sea and the a­rea next to Buf­fels Bay, a re­sult of the E­lands­kraal fi­re; the fi­res at Pe­zu­la, which we­re a re­sult of the fi­res at Dam-se-Bos and E­lands­kraal; the P­let­ten­berg Bay fi­res, which we­re cau­sed by a com­bi­na­ti­on of fac­tors; and the Mos­sel Bay fi­res, which Klat­zow be­lie­ves we­re star­ted on pur­po­se.

In Klat­zow’s sum­ma­ry of the o­ri­g­ins and cau­se of the fi­re, he sta­tes that an ac­ci­den­tal fi­re that star­ted at Dam-se-Bos spre­ad southwards to the Pe­zu­la e­sta­te, and con­ti­nu­ed through wooded a­re­as to P­let­ten­berg Bay. “The fe­ro­ci­ty of this set of fi­res was ex­a­cer­ba­ted by the pro­lon­ged droug­ht and the de­ve­lop­ment of ga­le-for­ce winds which ren­de­red the fi­re al­most un­stop­pa­ble,” he said.

Klat­zow al­so sta­ted that the we­stern suburbs of Knys­na we­re “en­gul­fed in a se­cond, un­re­la­ted fi­re which cros­sed the es­tu­a­ry on Ju­ne 7”.

“This fi­re al­so bur­ned al­ong the B­ren­ton E­sta­te, B­ren­ton-on-Sea and B­ren­ton-on-La­ke suburbs al­ong the we­stern sho­res of the es­tu­a­ry. This fi­re split in­to two fi­res, one af­fecting G­re­a­ter Knys­na, the ot­her af­fecting the we­stern

si­de of the es­tu­a­ry,” he said.

“Lig­ht­ning cau­sed we­stern fi­res”

The ig­ni­ti­on sour­ce of the­se we­stern fi­res was a well-do­cu­men­ted lig­ht­ning stri­ke, he said.

“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,” said Klat­zow.

Far­mers and re­si­dents of the E­lands­kraal com­mu­ni­ty said they re­por­ted the lig­ht­ning-hit smoul­de­ring a­rea to the Sed­ge­field and Knys­na fi­re de­part­ments on nu­me­rous oc­ca­si­ons.

Call for com­mis­si­on of in­qui­ry

Ac­cor­ding to a press re­le­a­se is­su­ed by AfriForum, the fin­dings in the re­port ha­ve al­re­a­dy been dis­cus­sed with We­stern Ca­pe pre­mier He­len Zil­le, who in turn wro­te a let­ter to the We­stern Ca­pe go­vern­ment, as­king for a com­mis­si­on of in­qui­ry to look in­to the fin­dings.

De­pu­ty CEO of AfriForum Ernst Roets said the or­ga­ni­sa­ti­on plays a key ro­le as a pres­su­re group in ci­vil so­cie­ty. “It is im­por­tant that the truth pre­vails and that jus­ti­ce is do­ne,” he said.

Due to AfriForum’s re­port being re­le­a­sed on a Knys­na-P­lett He­rald pro­ducti­on day, neither the Knys­na mu­ni­ci­pa­li­ty nor fi­re chief C­lin­ton Ma­nu­el had suf­fi­cient ti­me to re­spond.

P­ho­to: Ro­zier van Ton­der

From left: AfriForum Trau­ma he­ad Nan­tes Kel­der (left), de­pu­ty CEO Ernst Roets, Dr Da­vid Klat­zow and AfriForum spo­kes­per­son Reint Dy­ke­ma du­ring the me­dia con­fe­ren­ce on Au­gust 22.

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