CSIR po­le­mic o­ver fi­re re­port

Truth a­bout Knys­na in­fer­no’s con­flicting the­o­ries ex­pected to­day

Knysna-Plett Herald - - Voorblad - S­te­fan Goo­sen

Aspects of the long-a­wai­ted Coun­cil for S­cien­ti­fic and In­dus­tri­al Re­se­arch (CSIR) re­port on the cau­se of the 7 Ju­ne 2017 fi­res, which pro­mi­ses to be re­le­a­sed to­day (T­hurs­day 28 Ju­ne), was preemp­ted by the in­ves­ti­ga­ti­ve ma­ga­zi­ne No­se­week on T­hurs­day 21 Ju­ne.

The ar­ti­cle pla­ces a strong emp­ha­sis on Knys­na’s for­mer fi­re chief C­lin­ton Ma­nu­el, w­ho­se as­ser­ti­on was that the fi­re was cau­sed as a re­sult of flam­ma­ble ma­te­ri­al such as pi­ne co­nes and planks in­tro­du­ced in­to the E­lands­kraal a­rea. (Co­nes we­re found w­he­re no pi­ne trees grew and stac­ked planks we­re found ne­ar­by). He pos­tu­la­ted that we­at­her con­di­ti­ons on the day al­so fu­el­led the fi­re.

'Blow to Ma­nu­el and C­het­ty'

The No­se­week ar­ti­cle war­ned that the CSIR’s fin­dings would co­me as a "blow" to Ma­nu­el and mu­ni­ci­pal ma­na­ger Kam C­het­ty, as it would fi­nal­ly re­fu­te the the­o­ry that the fi­re was cau­sed by hu­man in­ter­ven­ti­on. The No­se­week ar­ti­cle im­plies that the CSIR re­port con­curs with A­friForum’s the­o­ry.

A­friForum, w­ho­se re­port was com­pi­led by Dr Da­vid Klat­zow with a si­ze­a­ble con­tri­bu­ti­on from E­lands­kraal re­si­dent and E­s­kom en­gi­neer Dr Wal­la­ce Vos­loo, sta­tes the Ju­ne fi­re was the re­sult of a lig­ht­ning stri­ke in the E­lands­kraal a­rea mont­hs be­fo­re which cau­sed un­der­ground smoul­de­ring. Fu­el­led by we­at­her con­di­ti­ons on the day, the smoul­de­ring fla­red up in­to a full-blo­wn bla­ze.

Neg­li­gen­ce im­pli­ca­ted

The the­o­ry is that the smoul­der was left u­nat­ten­ded, and im­pli­ca­tes Ma­nu­el and the bro­a­der Knys­na fi­re pre­ven­ti­on fra­ter­ni­ty as ha­ving been neg­li­gent in their re­spon­si­bi­li­ties to curb it in ti­me by ig­no­ring the com­mu­ni­ty's ple­as to at­tend to the mat­ter.

Both Ma­nu­el and CSIR group ma­na­ger: com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on and sta­ke­hol­der re­la­ti­ons Ten­da­ni T­se­du re­fu­ted No­se­week’s claims pu­blis­hed last week.

Ma­nu­el told t­his news­pa­per on Mon­day 25 Ju­ne that he did not see the ar­ti­cle nor the re­port. “Bet­ween me and the CSIR we de­ci­ded to ig­no­re the No­se­week ar­ti­cle,” he said. He ci­ted an a­no­ny­mous s­cien­tist as the CSIR re­pre­sen­ta­ti­ve that shared his view with him (Ma­nu­el), and sent Knys­na-P­lett He­rald (KPH) a copy of the mes­sa­ge the s­cien­tist al­le­ge­d­ly sent him, which re­ad, “Hi C­lin­ton. T­he­re is a­not­her No­se­week ar­ti­cle with wild al­le­ga­ti­ons and fac­tu­al er­rors. P­le­a­se ig­no­re it.” Ma­nu­el e­ven­tu­al­ly agreed to try and pro­vi­de the s­cien­tist's na­me and de­tails, but la­ter said the man told him that he was not aut­ho­ri­sed to speak to the me­dia.

'Go­al: re­port w­hat hap­pe­ned'

The CSIR of­fi­ce – via T­se­du and CSIR me­dia ma­na­ger Da­vid Man­daha – re­spon­ded that they would on­ly com­ment on the con­tent pro­vi­ded in the re­port af­ter it has been of­fi­ci­al­ly re­le­a­sed. T­se­du, ho­we­ver, con­ce­ded that the pur­po­se of the re­port had litt­le to do with Ma­nu­el per se, and its go­al was not to pro­ve or dis­pro­ve any one the­o­ry of w­hat cau­sed the fi­re in E­lands­kraal. “We want to re­port accu­ra­te­ly on w­hat hap­pe­ned,” he said.

A­friForum spo­kes­per­son Reint Dy­ke­ma told KPH t­his week that the or­ga­ni­sa­ti­on will wait for the re­port’s of­fi­ci­al re­le­a­se, pos­si­bly la­ter to­day, in or­der to weigh it up a­gainst the re­port com­pi­led for it by Klat­zow. “On­ly then will we of­fi­ci­al­ly com­ment on it,” said Dy­ke­ma.

'Fo­cus on w­he­re and why'

He, ho­we­ver, found no­thing un­to­ward a­bout No­se­week’s la­test ar­ti­cle. “’It is im­por­tant that the fo­cus should be on w­he­re ex­act­ly and why the fi­re star­ted,” he said, ad­ding that t­he­re are ma­ny the­o­ries that thre­a­ten to send the o­ri­g­ins of the fi­re off on a tan­gent.

Vos­loo, w­ho­se hou­se in E­lands­kraal was one of the first to be en­gul­fed by fla­mes, feels the CSIR re­port (to which he al­so con­tri­bu­ted), will bring forth the truth.

He said the No­se­week ar­ti­cle is fac­tu­al­ly cor­rect, but that so­me quo­tes are at­tri­bu­ted in­cor­rect­ly to him and ot­hers. “I think the wri­ter fu­sed so­me old in­for­ma­ti­on and new in­for­ma­ti­on which con­fu­ses t­hings a bit. If you ta­ke all the na­mes out though, I be­lie­ve all the facts are still t­he­re.”

He ad­ded that he be­lie­ves the wri­ter’s in­ten­ti­ons we­re to high­lig­ht the fact that Ma­nu­el dis­pu­ted the ex­is­ten­ce of the CSIR re­port, and that the for­mer fi­re chief still stands by his pi­ne co­ne the­o­ry.

'Aut­ho­ri­ties we­re war­ned'

“W­hat we must not f­or­get is that, ir­re­le­vant (sic) of the two ex­is­ting the­o­ries, the com­mu­ni­ty of E­lands­kraal re­por­ted a smoul­der mont­hs be­fo­re the bla­ze to both the mu­ni­ci­pal fi­re sta­ti­on and the lo­cal fi­re pro­tecti­on as­so­ci­a­ti­on, but that they did not act on it. If the lig­ht­ning the­o­ry is con­fir­med by the CSIR re­port it would on­ly be the tip of the i­ce­berg,” ad­ded Vos­loo.

He rei­te­ra­ted that the big­ge­st is­sue is that aut­ho­ri­ties we­re war­ned of the smoul­de­ring but did not act. “We a­wait the CSIR’s re­port in an­ti­ci­pa­ti­on and ho­pe it will not on­ly bring clo­su­re to tho­se af­fected but will help in pre­ven­ting furt­her di­sas­ters of t­his mag­ni­tu­de."

Whi­le t­he­se dis­pu­tes re­gar­ding the cau­se of the fi­re con­ti­nue, so are claims pro­ce­du­res a­gainst Knys­na Mu­ni­ci­pa­li­ty.

Da­ma­ges claims pi­ling up

Je­an du P­les­sis, an at­tor­ney from P­re­to­ria re­pre­sen­ting E­lands­kraal com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and who was al­so quo­ted in the No­se­week ar­ti­cle, con­fir­med on Tu­es­day 26 Ju­ne that he al­so has not seen the of­fi­ci­al CSIR re­port. He furt­her con­fir­med that he is see­king R21-mil­li­on in da­ma­ges claims on be­half of his clients.

Lo­cal at­tor­ney Do­nald Cur­tis from Derck­sens At­tor­neys Inc said that he could not com­ment yet on the ex­act tal­ly of the claims he is hand­ling. "We ha­ve re­cei­ved in­structi­on from nu­me­rous re­si­dents to pur­sue acti­on and are in the pro­cess of quan­ti­fying their claims," he said.

But w­hat does the mu­ni­ci­pa­li­ty, who stands to lo­se the most should the pro­cee­dings succeed, ha­ve to say a­bout the CSIR re­port and the No­se­week ar­ti­cle’s al­le­ga­ti­ons?

Spo­kes­per­son Chris­to­pher Be­zui­den­hout said on Tu­es­day t­his week that, to da­te, the mu­ni­ci­pa­li­ty had not seen the CSIR re­port. “As such, we can­not com­ment until such ti­me we ha­ve been pro­vi­ded with the do­cu­ment. We will al­so not be com­menting on the No­se­week ar­ti­cle,” he said.

Be­zui­den­hout al­so con­fir­med that the acting fi­re chief po­si­ti­on has been fil­led by Way­ne S­terns­dorf.

P­ho­to: Ro­zier van Ton­der.

Fo­ren­sic s­cien­tist Dr Da­vid Klat­zow ex­plains his con­clu­si­ons at a me­dia con­fe­ren­ce in Au­gust last y­e­ar.

P­ho­to: S­te­fan Goo­sen

Knys­na fi­re chief C­lin­ton Ma­nu­el du­ring the me­dia re­le­a­se of the mu­ni­ci­pal fi­re re­port in midAu­gust last y­e­ar.

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