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