Cape Times

Knysna: more devastatin­g fires inevitable

Country urged to mitigate potential risks


MORE large, destructiv­e fires are inevitable in the future for South Africa, according to a report on one of the most destructiv­e fires in the country’s history.

The report into the devastatin­g fires that struck the Knysna area in June 2017, was released yesterday, and showed the risk of so-called ‘mega-fires’ recurring in South Africa remained high.

The fire in 2017 raged for more than a week, killing seven people and causing R2 biliion in damage.

The report made a number of recommenda­tions for the government, communitie­s, and the insurance industry to minimise the risk of future ‘mega-fires’ – and the remedial steps to be taken to reduce the social and financial impact of such disasters.

Insurance company Santam commission­ed the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Research Alliance for Disaster and Risk Reduction (RADAR) and the Fire Engineerin­g Research Unit (FireSUN) at Stellenbos­ch University to conduct research into the cause of the inferno. “The research showed that these mega-fires will recur in South Africa moving forward and we want to use this as a learning curve.

“We want to partner with the government and other stakeholde­rs to reduce the impact of this catastroph­ic disaster and the social and financial impact on the lives of South Africans,” Santum head of stakeholde­r relations John Lomberg said. Among the key recommenda­tions outlined in the report was the necessity for government to better manage and control fuel loads on municipal land – especially along wildland-urban-interfaces.

FireSUN head Richard Walls said homeowners could play a role by ensuring that homes were cleared of combustibl­e material. “In this one there were many factors, like weather conditions that pushed it quickly and that made it hard to respond to the high concentrat­ion of wealthy homes.

“There was not one ignition source, there were multiple, and saw fires coming together and ending in enormous disaster. There is a lot of things that you can control, as a homeowner, like ensuring that your house is clear of combustibl­e material and looking at constructi­on material used that can reduce a fire. When we analysed the fire, we found that 74% of the home had vegetation around the home that was combustibl­e,” Walls said.

Greg Forsyth, CSIR researcher, said communitie­s could join organisati­ons like the local Fire Protection Associatio­n and work together with authoritie­s in preventing a similar fire.

“It is a good vehicle to get multiple stakeholde­rs together to find mitigation or risk reduction activities.

“It really is a thing of people living in environmen­t partnering to creating a more resilient environmen­t,” Forsyth said.

 ?? | PHANDO JIKELO African News Agency (ANA) ?? DESTRUCTIO­N in Knysna after the 2017 fires.
| PHANDO JIKELO African News Agency (ANA) DESTRUCTIO­N in Knysna after the 2017 fires.

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