Wildfires in South Africa
10 June 2017
First News of 7
Knysna fires are 'out of control'
NATIONAL NEWS - Gale force winds, fire all over Knysna and a situation that is like something out of a surreal movie, is for real. Knysna fire chief, Clinton Manuel, just confirmed the worst. The fires in Knysna are out of control and "there is a slim chance of stopping them."
Knysna residents from every part of town are taking shelter from the storm near the water and at the Knysna Yacht Club. Manuel said that the fire is spreading "rapidly due to a fast wind and that people are being evacuated to safe areas within town." Areas affected and evacuated, as confirmed by Manuel, are Brenton, Belvidere, Welbedaght, Eastford, Green Pastures and Knysna Heights. According to Manuel the fire is raging in two directions Knysna, one continuing from Knysna Heights and the other the fire spreading through Belvidere. From the viewpoint of the Knysna Yacht Club, some of these residents will notice fires on all sides of Knysna, which have now been confirmed as spreading. Manuel said with the resources available the chances of halting these runaway fires are "very slim."
In the meantime, at close to 20:00 on Wednesday 7 June 2017, the merciless wave of flames is engulfing Belvidere, Brenton-on-Sea, Knysna Heights, and has even jumped over the White Bridge where emergency services were trying to keep it at bay earlier today. Unconfirmed reports have come in saying Knysna Montessori and Oakhill School have also succumbed to the fire. Knysna-Plett Herald editor Elaine King and journalist Stefan Goosen are safe at the Knysna Yacht Club and will update news of the fire as and when is possible.
Read a statement from Eden District Municipality below:
At 19:15 the Eden DMC received a call from the Acting MM of Knysna indicating that he needs to evacuate the entire town and National resources would be needed. This was communicated to the PDMC, unfortunately National resources cannot be deployed at this point in time, the activation of the SANDF could take a couple of days. Knysna has a population of about 77 000 people, they were advised to liaise with the George Municipality to obtain Go George busses to assist with evacuation of the town as soon as access to the Town was possible form the West. For the interim people is being moved by means of taxi's and any possible transport to the Loerie Park area in the town.
The areas currently being evacuated include the following:
Update 09 June 2017
Nearly 800 homes were flooded across Cape Town and
the Cavendish Square shopping centre in Claremont was evacuated as a
major storm wreaked havoc in the Western Cape on 7 June 2017. The
Cavendish Square shopping centre was closed as a precautionary measure,
the centre said on its Facebook page. Roof sheeting is believed to have
blown off due to strong winds. Buildings outside Somerset Mall, a
shopping centre in Somerset West, were also evacuated as parts of the
roof collapsed. Security officials said no injuries were reported. The
City of Cape Town said 97 permanent dwellings and 700 emergency houses,
which were erected after recent fires, were flooded. The emergency
dwellings include 365 homes in Imizamo Yethu, 74 homes in Disa Park and
264 homes in Madiba Square. The permanent houses affected are in
Macassar Village, City Of Cape Town disaster management spokesperson
Charlotte Powell said.
During the evacuation of Knysna on 7 June 2017, NSRI
Knysna assisted with the evacuation of the Belvidere residents via the
estuary to St James. The conditions were very challenging and our
volunteers did an excellent job. Our thoughts go out to each and every
Knysna resident that lost a loved one or a house in these difficult
times. Some of our crew had to evacuate their own homes immediately
after the rescue, and also lost every thing last night.
Report of GFMC Correspondent Neels De
Ronde (Sedgefield, West of Knysna) (08 June 2017)
I only observed one of the fires from its start, just 2km N of my house in Sedgefield, from where it spread all the way to Knysna, forcing the Belvedere village inhabitant to escape to the edge of the lagoon from where they were evacuated to Thesens Island by "Sea and Rescue" as well as private speed boats. No access yet possible to Belvedere, so cannot tell the outcome of this fire there. Another "finger" of this fire front burned into a more S direction to the mouth of the Knysna River Lagoon, where (i) it forced resident from Brenton-on-Sea onto the beach to escape the fire, (ii) burned through a Nature Reserve and it (iii) spotted across the "Heads" from W to E, from where it spread further.
However, this was only one of the 25+ fires that started around Knysna and eventually surrounded the village so that thousands of people had to flee to the only escape route left (all roads closed) which was Thesens Island where a marina housed a few hundred permanent residents. Here most stayed for the night sleeping in their cars.
Estimated number of resident homesteads burned over so far: 150. Five persons lost their lives so far.
Numerous other wildfires were experienced from Hermanus area (Overberg) via Knysna and Plettenberg Bay as far as W of Port Elizabeth, as far N as Uniondale. No official count of numbers of fire available yet. Evacuations also occurred elsewhere than at Knysna.
Left: View of the fire at the West side of Knysna Lagoon, just before evacuations from there. Note height of cumulus cloud/smoke in old Fynbos shrubland. Right: Knysna Heights fire surrounds Knysna in the evening of 7 June 2017, taken from the Thesens Island house of Kevin Reid (Photo: Courtesy K. Reid)
Left: Similar view as above right, phototaken by Harja Raubenheimer from different angle, taken from her Thesens Island house. Middle and right: Photo by Graham Berry showing his house in Knysan completely destroyed. Note very old Fynbos vegetation burned out!
View from space of the wildfire locations and smoke travelling to the South as depicted by the MODIS Terra instrument. Source: NASA
Update report of GFMC Correspondent Neels De Ronde (Sedgefield, West of Knysna) (12 June 2017)
All the fires around Knysna/Plettenberg Bay are now extinguished and under control. Weather conditions for the next few days are now favourable for safe and systematic attention while mopping up.
Human mortality: Nine people lost their lives so far. Dwellings/homesteads/other buildings damaged or destroyed: Still rough estimates, but could run into 400 to 500 now (mostly completely destroyed). Aid is pouring in, while insurance companies are working hard to identify damage to properties of their clients and get claims out.
I can safely say that the standard of training and experience (also of fire managers) has greatly improved and something South Africans are very proud of. I can safely say that these teams can be compared with the best in the world!
Wildfire investigations: Until the post-mortems are all attended to, this has not been given any serious thought, but I am sure this next phase will be initiated. I hope that our wildfire reconstruction phase will also be set to work here (see: Wildfire Investigation - a textbook and guidelines published by De Ronde and Goldammer, 2015). Other specialists in this field will also join no doubt.
Assessing status of urban interface and general fire prevention measures in the region, I am sure this process will soon start and I am ready to present my ideas if called to assist. Here there is tremendous room for improvement and this reality should soon sink-in.While our fire brigade bosses from all organisations involved will start with serious post-mortem processes, final reports will also become available and then more detail will also be supplied.
Recent news from the Knysna fires
Knysna fires : five factors that produced the Perfect Inferno (published by www.fireandrescue.co 30 June 2017)
Rapidly rising temperatures in South Africa pose more risk of wildfires (published by www.fireandrescue.co 30 June 2017)