Knysna will rise from the ashes – mayor

Tourist town is on the path to re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion in af­ter­math of fires

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - YOLANDE STANDER

AS THE flames and smoke along the Gar­den Route be­gan to dis­si­pate, mas­sive mop-up op­er­a­tions got un­der way this week to pre­vent fur­ther de­struc­tion.

A large num­ber of dev­as­tat­ing fires have swept through the South­ern Cape since last Wed­nes­day, leav­ing a trail of de­struc­tion in its wake. The fires – which were mainly fo­cused around Knysna and Plet­ten­berg Bay – saw about 5 000 res­i­dents flee their homes, led to the de­struc­tion of about 700 homes and other struc­tures, claimed the lives of seven lo­cals, and burnt through more than 20 000 hectares of land.

Ef­forts to deal with the fires have been dubbed by dis­as­ter man­age­ment ex­perts as the “the big­gest dis­as­ter res­cue op­er­a­tion in South African his­tory”.

The fires – which flared up sev­eral times over the past week and saw more than 1 000 fire­fight­ers from around the coun­try bat­tle the flames – had fi­nally been con­tained by Mon­day.

Work­ing on Fire ( WOF) spokesman Lau­ren Howard said 480 fire­fight­ers would re­main in the re­gion for the next week to deal with mop-up op­er­a­tions. This in­volves clear­ing hot spots, build­ing fire­breaks, and en­sur­ing that still-smoul­der­ing ar­eas were com­pletely ex­tin­guished to pre­vent fur­ther flames.

“We es­ti­mate that most of the work would be com­pleted within the next week,” Howard said.

She said fire­fight­ers were still in­volved in mon­i­tor­ing hot spot ar­eas in­clud­ing around Sedge­field, Goud­veld, Si­mola in Knysna and Eland­skraal. Knysna fire chief Clin­ton Man­ual said there were still a few smoul­der­ing ar­eas, but that these did not pose any dan­ger. “We will be water-bomb­ing these ar­eas as they are mostly in­ac­ces­si­ble to ground crew.”

Howard said get­ting to this point – where fires were con­tained and mop-up op­er­a­tions could begin – had taken mas­sive ef­forts from var­i­ous role­play­ers of which Work­ing on Fire con­trib­uted the ma­jor­ity of the man­power. The team also con­sisted of 485 fire­fight­ers from across the coun­try. Eight fire en­gines, six buses and two he­li­tack sup­port ve­hi­cles were utilised. Three spot­ter planes and two he­li­copters were also used.

The SANDF also de­ployed two Oryx he­li­copters and a BK117 chop­per.

In the mean­time, Knysna mayor Eleanore Bouw-Spies said that mop­ping up ex­tended fur­ther than pre­vent­ing the flames from reignit­ing.

“Knysna will rise, and we will rise stronger than ever be­fore,” Bouw-Spies said.

Knysna and Plett have been de­clared lo­cal dis­as­ter ar­eas.

“Thou­sands of res­i­dents have been af­fected by these dev­as­tat­ing fires that rav­aged our town. Greater Knysna has re­ceived an un­prece­dented out­pour­ing of sup­port from res­i­dents across South Africa and abroad, and have be­gun to re­build our town. Do­na­tions re­ceived will be used to­wards this.”

She said this week struc­tures had been cre­ated to en­sure the Knysna dis­as­ter fund was man­aged with trans­parency and strict ac­count­abil­ity.

Bouw-Spies said that the town’s in­fras­truc­ture had taken a se­ri­ous knock af­fect­ing the pro­vi­sion of elec­tric­ity, water and sewage.

She added the fires had high­lighted dan­gers around the town’s road sys­tem.

Bouw- Spies said among the rea­sons the fire had been so dev­as­tat­ing in­cluded the drought and the pro­lif­er­a­tion of alien veg­e­ta­tion.

“Pro­grammes must now be put in place to re­move and limit the new growth of alien veg­e­ta­tion. The hill­sides and dunes that have been laid bare by the fires need to be re­ha­bil­i­tated as a mat­ter of ur­gency. Should there be heavy rain­fall, mud slides may be a re­al­ity. Con­se­quent silt­ing can dam­age the Knysna River Es­tu­ary and the la­goon with long-term ef­fects on the water and ecosys­tem.”

She said that the fires had also taken a toll on the busi­ness sec­tor, with sev­eral small to medium busi­nesses hav­ing been de­stroyed.

“The dis­as­ter funds will be utilised to pro­vide sup­port of vary­ing kinds to as­sist small busi­nesses to restart, or new ven­tures to come into be­ing.”

Mean­while, na­tional gov­ern­ment has com­mit­ted to pro­vide R75 mil­lion to ad­dress­ing the dam­age in Knysna and its sur­round­ing ar­eas. – Gar­den Route Me­dia

The dev­as­tat­ing fires re­sulted in 5 000 res­i­dents flee­ing their homes.

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