South Africa 11.6.2017 06:15 pm

Fire death toll rises while blazes contained in Knysna, Sedgefield, Bitou and George

The damage in Knysna. Picture: Hannes Visser

The damage in Knysna. Picture: Hannes Visser

As cooler weather prevailed early on Sunday fire commanders pushed to contain the fires around Knysna.

Following the announcement that the death toll of the Knysna fires had risen to seven following the death of a volunteer firefighter and the mother of a child, who was also killed in the blaze, later on Sunday evening at least two more deaths from the Cape fires were reported.

ENCA quoted The Herald newspaper as reporting a 73-year-old man, who on Saturday lost his wife to the blaze that gutted their Port Elizabeth farm, died on Sunday.

The Cape fires death toll is now believed to stand at nine.

Earlier on Sunday afternoon

By late Sunday afternoon, there were no new fires reported in the Knysna area and no evacuations had taken place during Saturday night.

It has been confirmed that the mother of the four-year-old child, who died during the devastating fires in Knysna on Wednesday, 7 June, has died, reports the Knysna-Plett Herald.

The woman, a Malawian national, was reported as missing to the police after the body of the four-year-old deceased was found next to a dam at Narnia Village, Welbedaght.

A search ensued and she was later found in a critical condition at the Knysna Private Hospital.

Preliminary investigation confirmed that she was transferred to Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town on Friday, 9 June, 2017.

An inquest docket was opened into her death.

Details of the deceased will be released at a later stage.

As reported earlier, on Saturday afternoon, a second volunteer, who was fighting the fire in Knysna, lost his life.

According to the Knysna-Plett Heraldon Sunday all national and municipal roads were open.

There were, however, a few fire flare-ups in and around Knysna and the fire near Sedgefield, that burned towards Buffalo Bay, still had an active fire line, but it was under control and posed no threat by Sunday afternoon.

All available aerial resources would focus on this line and they would attempt to extinguish it completely.

On Saturday night, the fire at Brackenhill jumped over the road, but had been brought under control and by Sunday afternoon, it was contained.

Fire teams from MTO were damping it down, and mopping up operations would commence shortly.

Knysna fire: The scene at what used to be Knysna Hollow. Picture: Albert van Wyk

Knysna fire: The scene at what used to be Knysna Hollow. Picture: Albert van Wyk

In the Bitou area, the situation had cooled down; however, an extensive area still needed to be dampened down.

Access to overgrown areas was being cleared by machinery in order to reach deep seated smouldering fire lines.

The 802 Fixed Wing Bomber from Working On Fire has been deployed, to assist with wet lines at the Kransbos plantation fire, near Uplands.

In the George area, all fires are contained, however flare-ups were observed at the Hoekwil/Serpentine Heights and Geelhoutboom fires. Firefighting crews were busy with operations in order to contain these fires on Sunday afternoon.

Mossel Bay Fire and Rescue were busy with firefighting operations in the Friemersheim area.

During today’s, Sunday June 11, media briefing at about 12:00 acting municipal manager for Greater Knysna Johhny Douglas (far left), executive mayor Eleanore Bouw-Spies and incident commander fire chief Reinard Geldenhuys were all of the same opinion that today would be a good day. Picture: Stefan Goosen

During today’s, Sunday June 11, media briefing at about 12:00 acting municipal manager for Greater Knysna Johhny Douglas (far left), executive mayor Eleanore Bouw-Spies and incident commander fire chief Reinard Geldenhuys were all of the same opinion that today would be a good day. Picture: Stefan Goosen

On Sunday morning, fire chief Reinard Geldenhuys, incident commander for the Knysna fires, said: “Today is the day; the day we win.”

This statement came during a media briefing, which included executive mayor of Knysna Eleanore Bouw-Spies and acting municipal manager Johnny Douglas.

In his statement Geldenhuys said that with the wind was dying down on Sunday this would “be the best chance we have had since the start of the fires to bring it under control and end it.”

“The aerial response is doing wonderful work. We are getting flare-ups here and there but we keep pushing back and will continue to do so,” said Geldenhuys.

According to him, there is a total of more than 1 100 people working in shifts around the clock to attend to all incidents.

This included pilots, emergency services personnel, fire fighters and volunteers. He said at the moment of the briefing that there were almost 350 people “on the ground”.

“All fires along the N2 are under control and the wind is in our favour,” he said, adding that no further properties were in danger at that time.

Bouw-Spies said for rebuilding purposes, there was a Knysna checklist that would be used to assess who is affected, what their needs are and where the needs are.

She said that supplies needed most at the moment are sleeping bags, mattresses, blankets, small home appliances and toiletries among others, and reiterated the importance that people do not spread rumours and fake news.

Bouw-Spies added: “Before this morning, I used to say we are cautiously optimistic about the fires. Today I can say I am very optimistic.”

According to Douglas, the total loss to Knysna has not yet been determined, but at the last tally which only included 5% of Knysna, 439 properties in town had been affected.

“We will continue to assess the damage tomorrow,” he said.

Watch the video here:

Earlier

Knysna residents could soon breathe a sigh of relief following the mayor Eleanore Bouw-Spies’s announcement on Sunday morning that the fires have been contained and controlled. Speaking to eNCA, Bouw-Spies said efforts to contain the fires were largely successful and mop-up operations would soon resume.

There has been no need to evacuate any areas on Sunday morning, said the Knysna municipality, further warning people against going to unsafe areas.

“We cannot afford the resources to rescue anybody twice,” it said.

Watch updates from the mayor below:

Earlier

The outlook was optimistic on Sunday morning regarding the devastating Eden district and Knysna fires as weather conditions improved along the Garden Route, the Western Cape government said in an update on the situation.

“Firefighters hit the ground running this morning [Sunday] as day five of the Knysna fire dawned,” local government MEC Anton Bredell’s spokesman James-Brent Styan said.

As cooler weather prevailed early on Sunday fire commanders pushed to contain the fires around Knysna. A wide range of firefighting agencies were dispatched from the incident command centre in the Knysna municipality, working closely with the Eden district disaster management centre, he said.

On Saturday night, divisions held the line – holding the flames back – to protect the village of Rheenendal and the Wit Lokasie settlement. Both areas were under threat during Saturday’s gale-force winds. Brenton-on-Sea was hit hard on Saturday with several more houses damaged.

Firefighting aircraft – both water-bombing helicopters and fixed-wing spotter planes – were airborne shortly before 9am on Sunday as the morning fog and smog lifted. With wind speeds dropping conditions were improving for aerial support.

“The total fire line still stretched to more than 100km between Sedgefield and Plettenberg Bay, and the latest hotspots were identified for concerted attack this morning [Sunday]. Fortunately, the injuries to five fire-fighters reported yesterday [Saturday] have been confirmed as minor,” Styan said.

Confirmed fatalities at this stage for the Eden district was six, including one firefighter.

Fire commanders confirmed that no losses had been suffered in Buffel’s Bay, and some fires on Saturday were deliberate “back-burns” to protect the town from runaway flames. A fire in the vicinity of Sedgefield remained a concern on Sunday, he said.

– African News Agency (ANA)

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A firefighter on Saturday has lost his life in the fires that have gripped the Knysna area, bringing the death toll to seven.

Also on Saturday, the fires in the Eden district claimed the life of a 63-year-old man near Concordia in Knysna, the Western Cape government said.

An additional five people had been evacuated to hospital with serious injuries and their condition remained serious, Western Cape local government MEC Anton Bredell’s spokesman James-Brent Styan said.

The fire line in the Eden district currently extended over an area of roughly 100km. At Knysna, various areas were being evacuated at 6pm, including Ruigtevlei, Concordia, and Wit lokasie. However, the N2 had been reopened, he said.

Aerial resources, grounded on Saturday morning due to strong wind gusting at 97km/h, had taken to the air to help extinguish the fire after the wind subsided late on Saturday afternoon. There were eleven aircraft on the scene, including three South African National Defence Force (SANDF) Oryx helicopters and four Working on Fire helicopters. An additional fixed wing aircraft would arrive from Nelspruit on Sunday, Styan said.

In the Sedgefield area, the fire jumped the N2 on Saturday morning and was burning in the direction of Buffalo Bay. Rural houses had been evacuated and people had been placed at the Buffalo Bay community hall. The fire had subsequently been contained.

In the Bitou region, the fire at Jakkalskraal, Roodefontein, Kranshoek, and Jukani was spreading towards Plettenberg Bay airfield, but was also subsequently contained. And at Hoekwil/Serpentine Heights at George, the fire had also been contained with crews monitoring the situation.

The provincial health department had sent four additional doctors to assist at Knysna. Additional oxygen masks and cylinders had been provided. A 24-hour medical facility had been opened at Plettenberg Bay. The department was investigating opening up the clinic in Plettenberg Bay, but this was dependent on access to the clinic as well as the situation.

The South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) would be at Hornlee Hall, Masifonde Library, Dam se Bos, Sedgefield, and Karatara to issue people with new pension cards from Monday to Thursday next week. Capacity for this would also be increased. However, the exact details and confirmation of the venues could only be provided on Monday.

Styan said conditions might improve from later on Saturday evening. The South African Weather Service had predicted partly cloudy and cool conditions on Sunday with moderate northwesterly winds (10-20km/h), but no rain was expected in the region. – African News Agency (ANA)

Earlier

After an afternoon of hell, the people in Buffels Bay who were completely surrounded by fire for most of the day have been rescued.

The Knysna municipality has reported that firefighters have been able to clear a way through some of the raging fires by waiting for the wind to die down at times, and this allowed them to clear a way to the trapped group of fire victims.

“Bufffalo Bay has been cleared, the fire has been contained and residents can return to their homes,” the municipality said on Twitter.

Buffels Bay was completely surrounded by fires and rescue workers were unable to enter the area on Saturday afternoon. People were stranded on the beach, unable to escape, eNCA reported.

The Knysna Municipality has been sending updates to people on which places were safe for residents.

It shared that the N2 between Sedgefield and Knysna had now been closed due to poor visibility.

Check out the updates in the tweets below:

Caxton News Service

Earlier this week:

Earlier

Firefighter dies in #CapeFires

Earlier this Friday morning, Western Cape local government department spokesperson James-Brent Styan has confirmed that a volunteer firefighter has died after battling the runaway blazes in Knysna and Plettenberg Bay.

Most of the fires in Knysna were contained by Thursday night, although they appear to have flared up again in some areas, particularly Plettenberg Bay, on Friday morning.

Another firefighter is also in hospital for medical attention.

The slain firefighter sustained burn wounds across 70% of his body, with the other firefighter fighting to recover from 50% burn wounds.”

Styan said: “We are thinking about these firefighters and their families. We also think of all the firefighters in the fire line.”

After two days of devastating fires across the Garden Route – which saw thousands of residents displaced and more than 300 lose their homes – locals and emergency workers could breathe a hopeful sigh of relief on Thursday night when most fires had been contained.

However, on Friday morning it was reported that the fires in Plettenberg Bay have continued to spread, and evacuations from homes there were continuing.

Choppers will be continuing to water-bomb the blazes, with hundreds of firefighters continuing their efforts.

Strong and changing winds have been making firefighting efforts difficult.

The worst-affected areas this week included Knysna, where authorities confirmed that about 3000 residents had been evacuated as large parts of the coastal holiday town went up in flames.

Early indications reveal that about 300 structures were destroyed in the area. Neighbouring town Plettenberg Bay also saw large-scale evacuations with about 1000 people having been forced to flee their homes as the fire ripped through the town’s Kranshoek and Whale Rock areas.

About 30 homes are believed to have been destroyed. With all local resources having been activated and assistance from neighbouring areas as well as nationally, by Thursday night authorities in both towns confirmed that while firefighters were still working around the clock, most of the fires had been contained.

Eden district disaster management confirmed firefighters had responded to at least 26 fires along the Garden Route over the past two days.

In both areas authorities have started counting the costs of the devastation.

“Our first priority was to contain the fires, it is only now that were are able to establish the extent of the damage. The thick smoke has also made it very difficult to ascertain the exact destruction,” Swartz said.

In the meantime several relief efforts are underway along the Garden Route with donations from across the country being sent to the affected areas.

The devastating fires in the Knysna area are far from being contained.

This is according to Gerhard Otto, head of Eden District Disaster Management.

Otto spoke to the George Herald after a briefing with the Western Cape Premier Helen Zille at the Eden District Municipality Disaster Centre on Thursday afternoon.

“A joint operation of government emergency services is making all efforts trying to put down the fire which runs all the way to Plettenberg Bay.”

According to Otto, the first fire started in the Kruisfontein plantation to the east of Knysna which could have been caused by someone lighting a match in the forest.

“We are investigating a case of arson. I was informed that the second fire on the western side in the Karatara area could be related to a controlled burn that was done four days ago. We believe that the strong berg wind caused a smoking ember to catch alight.

“There is a false sense of security in the area as there is a lull in the wind, but we are expecting the wind to pick-up this evening.

“The fire has so far destroyed over 140 to 150 houses in the greater Knysna area and about 25 homes on the ‘millionaire’s mile’ between the Beacon Isle Hotel and Robberg Nature Reserve,” said Otto.

Helen Zille leaving the JOC heading to Knysna this afternoon. Picture: Zolani Sinxo

Helen Zille leaving the JOC heading to Knysna this afternoon. Picture: Zolani Sinxo

At George Hospital, GO GEORGE buses are transporting patients who were evacuated from the Knysna Hospital.

Dr Zilla North, the hospital’s medical commander for the fires taking place in the Garden Route, said, “Patients were evacuated from Knysna Hospital due to the intense smoke in Knysna.

“Unfortunately we have also admitted a firefighter who was badly burnt while fighting the fires last night.”

Earlier

While most of the devastating fire that swept through parts of Plettenberg Bay on Wednesday and Thursday had been brought under control by Thursday afternoon, firefighters remained on the scene to take care of flare-ups, reports the Knysna-Plett Herald.

There were large-scale evacuations in various areas in Plettenberg Bay, including the Kranshoek, Whale Rock and Longships areas, over the past two days and rough calculations suggested that at least 30 homes had been destroyed.

Fire rages in Plettenberg Bay. Picture: Jan Venter

Fire rages in Plettenberg Bay. Picture: Jan Venter, Shutterspeed Images

GoGeorge buses had been deployed to help evacuate residents threatened by the fire and displaced locals gathered at various evacuation points, including schools and community halls across town.

The fire started in the Kruisfontein area outside Knysna and spread to the Kranshoek area on Wednesday morning. It then moved along the coast and cutting back inland towards the Cairnbrogie Estate.

By Wednesday night the Whale Rock area near Robberg was next in the fire’s path.

Fire rages in Plettenberg Bay. Picture: Jan Venter

Fire rages in Plettenberg Bay. Picture: Jan Venter, Shutterspeed Images

In Knysna, water bombing may become necessary for fire still burning in inaccessible areas. Fires were not yet under control, said Knysna fire chief Clinton Manuel on Thursday afternoon.

Manuel updated the fire situation. “This means that we do not want the fire to run away with us again and we need to prevent this.”

He said firefighters from as far afield as Cape Town were currently fighting fires in the town area and a fire past the Kruisfontein area as well as others.

The damage in Knysna. Picture: Hannes Visser

The damage in Knysna. Picture: Hannes Visser

Water bombing areas has now become an option and Manuel said that an exploratory flight would be made to consider water bombing in inaccessible areas in the wind.

“We are looking at areas where the wind could change or intensify, using all our crew and trying to overcome with all the resources we have,” said Manuel.

Shortly after Manuel’s announcement, the sounds of choppers flying over the Knysna-Plett Herald building in Spring Street, central town, could be heard.

He said headway was being made in restoring services to the community, including electricity and water.

The damage in Knysna. Picture: Hannes Visser

The damage in Knysna. Picture: Hannes Visser

Earlier

The death toll from the severe weather conditions in the Western Cape reached nine on Thursday, the provincial government said.

“Unfortunately, we need to announce there’s another fatality, we just received the news that we found a three-year-old body, bringing the total fatalities to nine since the disaster started,” MEC Anton Bredell said in a media briefing with his human settlements and finance counterparts.

The body of the child was found in a burnt outbuilding in Welbedacht, Knysna. The Southern Cape town has been ravaged by fires, fanned by gale force winds.

On Wednesday, a family of three – a woman, her husband and their child – died in a fire in Rheenendal, outside Knysna. The other deaths were in the Cape, which experienced heavy rains, gale force winds, thunder and lightning. The fatalities included four people, who died in a fire in Kraaifontein caused by lightning, while another death was confirmed in Lavender Hill due to a building collapse.

Human Settlements MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela said 827 informal structures in the Peninsula were destroyed, with 2 500 people displaced. In Knysna, at least 8 000 people were evacuated, and are being accommodated in community halls.

The Brenton and Belevedere areas of Knysna suffered extensive damage.

“We are engaging with the MEC of finance to see how we can engage our partners at municipal level to ensure people are resettled,” said Madikizela.

He said the rebuild programme would commence on Friday when the weather was expected to clear up.

Finance MEC Ivan Meyer said he had invoked section 25 of the Public Finance Management Act that allows him to access emergency funding to assist affected areas.

“I’ve already asked the provincial treasury this coming weekend to assist us with assessing the scale of this particular problem. Next Wednesday, I will go to the cabinet and put some proposals on the table to deal with this crisis,” he said.

Meanwhile, community members in Edenvale and Bedfordview are rallying behind those left homeless as a result of the Knysna fires.

Donations of bottled water, energy drinks, food, blankets and clothing can be dropped off at the Bedfordview Edenvale News’ office in Greenstone Crescent Shopping Centre on Thursday.

Nic Bruchhausen, an Edenvale resident, will drive to Knysna either later this afternoon or tomorrow morning to assist with firefighting efforts in the area.

He will be taking all donations delivered.

“Donations for residents evacuated from their homes and firefighters working to control the blaze will be delivered to various evacuation points identified,” Bruchhausen said.

“Firefighters working around the clock to control the blaze will also benefit from the donations,” he said.

Details: Greenstone Crescent Shopping Centre, Shop 18A, next to Body Flo Gym. The offices will be open until 4pm for donation drop-offs.

Helping the animals

The National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) on Thursday issued a statement which said it had dispatched their disaster teams early on Thursday morning from Alberton, in Gauteng, to assist animals affected by the devastating fires in the Knysna area in the Western Cape.

The statement read, “Many animals have been left displaced and some severely injured and requiring the intervention of the NSPCA Disaster Teams. The aftermath of such devastating fires leaves a trail of destruction. Displaced animals need food and water. Severely injured animals need assistance. Animals suffering from burns require veterinary assistance and may need to be humanely euthanased to end their suffering if this is extreme and there is no hope of survival.”

The NSPCA said that farm, domestic and wildlife animals have been affected by the “dire” situation and expressed thanks to the George and Mossel Bay SPCAs, stating that the staff have worked tirelessly since Wednesday afternoon to assist animals in danger.

“Unfortunately these SPCAs have been prohibited from entering certain areas to rescue animals as a result of the fires being out of control,” said the NSPCA.

“The George and Mossel Bay SPCAs took in over 60 animals from the Knysna Animal Welfare Society, in order to make space available for other animals to be admitted from surrounding communities affected by the disaster.

“The NSPCA Disaster Teams will assess the situation upon arrival. More Inspectors and Veterinary staff will be deployed to the area if needed.”

Caxton News Service

Earlier

The Western Cape government has listed the areas most affected by the devastating fire that started burning in the Kranshoek area on Wednesday.

Early estimates included severe devastation to the following suburbs of Knysna:

· Brenton-on-Lake
· Brenton-on-Sea
· Nania
· Eastford
· Knysna Heights
· Fisherhaven
· Brakenhill
· Belvedere Heights
· Green Pastures
· Greenfield
· Jood se Kamp
· White Location

Later today, damage assessments will be done.

People have been sharing videos and pictures of the devastating fire on social media.

Check out some of the videos below:

Earlier

Plettenberg Bay residents have started to evacuate as the devastating fire that started burning in the Kranshoek area on Wednesday has spread to the outskirts of the coastal holiday town, reports the Knysna-Plett Herald.

Details are not clear, but residents in the Whale Rock and Longships areas near Robberg have started to evacuate.

Residents in the the Schoongezicht and Branckenrkidge estates have been urged to remain on high alert.

There are reports of people packing up their belongings and getting ready to move.

The Plettenberg Bay Primary School has been identified as an evacuation point and the CrossFit Plett box have offered shelter for those who need it.

The Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre is open to receive displaced animals.

Earlier

The Western Cape Disaster Management Centre said early on Thursday morning that around 10 000 residents had been evacuated from Knysna where a fire has been raging out of control since Wednesday.

However, the centre said there had not yet been a call for a mass evacuation of Knysna’s 77 000 residents.

“The fire in Knysna is the largest and most destructive fire in a built up area in the Western Cape in recent memory with thousands displaced,” James-Brent Styan, spokesman for Western Cape Local Government MEC Anton Bredell, said. “It comes on the back of the worst storm seen in the Western Cape in at least thirty years.”

By Wednesday afternoon, the WCDMC confirmed a total of eight storm-related fatalities. High winds, pounding rain and thunderous seas caused havoc across large parts of Cape Town on Wednesday, ripping roofs off buildings and leading to widespread flooding in low-lying areas. Several thousand people were affected by the storm and had to be accommodated at emergency shelters.

In Knysna, the WCDMC has appealed to members of the public to adhere to requests to evacuate certain areas, after reports of some residents refusing to leave their homes.

“Ultimately emergency services cannot be held responsible if members of the public to not heed legitimate evacuation requests,” Styan said.

“The officials on the ground are monitoring the situation and will inform locals timeously, if and when additional evacuations become necessary. The officials on and offsite will not hesitate to take every action required to keep citizens safe.”

The statement also said evacuees were being transported to various safety sites and that additional fire-fighting resources had been deployed to assist, “these include eight fire trucks from City of Cape Town, two from the Overberg district and 12 additional Working on fire teams”.

Strong winds and smoke has made the use of helicopters impossible up to this point.

Some key infrastructure has been destroyed, which the WCDMC said had made communication difficult, but alternative communication measures had been established.

“The WCDMC is busy coordinating relief efforts and humanitarian relief aid for all affected areas across the Western Cape following the storm, including and with a specific focus on Knysna”.

A drop-off point will be established at the Eden Fire Station in George. – African News Agency (ANA)

 

Earlier

Knysna fire chief Clinton Manuel said that the fire was burning out of control and that emergency services had a “slim chance” of stopping the fire with the resources available.

The SA National Defence Force has been called in to help stricken residents.

There had been no calls for a mass evacuation of Knysna where a fire was raging out of control, the Western Cape Disaster Management Centre (WDMC) clarified on Wednesday night

“While some areas in the town have already been evacuated, there is currently no call for mass evacuation of the entire Knysna,” a statement from the WCMD said.

By 11pm on Wednesday night, the areas of Brenton, Belvedere, Welbedacht, Nania, Eastford, Green Pastures and Knysna Heights had been evacuated.

“The officials on the ground are monitoring the situation and will inform locals timeously if and when additional evacuations become necessary. The officials on site will not hesitate to take every action required to keep citizens safe, the statement said.

“Evacuees are being taken to the Loerie Park area in town. There is shelter in that area. Further arrangements will be made when and if needed.”

Go George public buses were activated to provide mass transport services. At least 15 buses had been deployed to Knysna by 11pm.

The City of Cape on Wednesday night said its staff had been activated and would drive through the night to reach Knysna to assist the town’s firefighters. The City was deploying 27 firefighters, four bush fire tenders, two skid units, one major pump and a fire tender to the area.

Firefighters from surrounding towns were also deployed, while two fire trucks from the Overberg district were sent to the area. Twelve additional Working on Fire teams are expected in Knysna.

Aerial support had however been ruled out.

“Conditions include strong wind and lots of smoke which makes helicopter use not possible at present.”

The WCDM appealed to the public to rely on “established information channels” and urged people not to spread unconfirmed information as it could lead to panic.

“Whilst there are communications challenges, the town has established alternative communications measures to communicate with citizens.” – African News Agency (ANA)

“We have evacuated areas in the path of the fire. Evacuated people to safe areas. The fire is running with quite a fast wind behind it. This wind is blowing very, very strong causing the fire to spread extremely rapidly,” he said.

“The idea is to evacuate areas further in the path of the fire to safer areas… Currently we have got all our resources deployed and we are being assisted by neighbouring municipalities and other organisations.”

The areas evacuated on Wednesday night included, Brenton, Belvedere, Welbedacht, Nania, Eastford, Green Pastures, and Knysna Heights.

He said that the fire was split in two — one  affecting the Knysna Heights and the CBD area and the second affecting the Belvedere and Brenton area. It is reported that about 50 houses were burnt.

The fires claimed the lives of three people, saw several homes destroyed, led to large scale evacuations, power outages and road closures. Most of Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, Sedgefield and surrounds were covered in plumes of smoke for most of the day with the Knysna area worst affected.

The flames were fanned by gale force winds as a devastating storm swept over the Western Cape. Knysna mayor Eleanore Bouw-Spies labeled the fires the worst in decades.

By Wednesday night Eden District Disaster Management confirmed that firefighters had responded to 26 fires. Head of the unit Gerhard Otto said one of the fires, which broke out in the Rheenedal area outside Knysna, claimed the lives of three people.

He said details around their deaths were however still unclear. Knysna fire chief Clinton Manual reported that four homes had been destroyed in the Knysna fires.

Knysna municipal spokesman Fran Kirsten said that large scale evacuations had also been carried out Belvedere, Brenton-on-Sea and Karatara outside Knysna. Residents along Airport Road in Plettenberg Bay were also being evacuated as a precautionary measure due to a fire raging in the Kranshoek area just outside Plettenberg Bay towards Knysna.

The N2 between the Plettenberg Bay and Knysna was closed due to low visibility early on Wednesday morning and Kirsten said it would remain closed until further notice. This after a fire broke out during the early hours of the morning in the Springveld area just outside Knysna off the N2.

The municipality also deployed bulldozers in the area to keep the fire away from the road. Kirsten said the road between Brenton-on-Sea and Knysna as well as the road at the Phantom Pass in Rheendal had also been closed. She confirmed that there were several fires raging in the area including Karatara, Belvedere, Brenton-on-Sea and the Western Head in Knysna.

These were all still out of control by late on Wednesday evening. Otto confirmed other areas affected included Kruis River in the Hessequa Municipality, in Herbertsdale near Mossel Bay, Touwsranten and Hoekwill near Wilderness.

The fire in Plettenberg Bay broke out at the Kranshoek Viewpoint area, burnt along the coast and then cut inland towards the Cairnbrogie Estate just off Plett’s Airport Road.

Otto said that all available staff had been deployed to deal with the fires including staff that had been on rest days had been called in to assist.

Working on Fire (WoF) teams have also been deployed to the area and so have about 60 firefighters from outside the district.

“Unfortunately due to gale force winds no aerial support can be activated,” Otto said.

The South African National Defense Force will however be contacted in an effort to obtain aerial support by means of an Oryx. There had also been no power to Knysna and Plettenberg Bay for most of the day as a result of the fires. – African News Agency (ANA)

Earlier

Thousands of residents were being evacuated on Wednesday evening from Knysna amid runaway fires and raging winds.

The Knysna municipality had earlier confirmed that a family of three died between Ruigtevlei and Barrington in the Southern Cape in a plantation fire on Wednesday.

Municipality spokeswoman Fran Kirsten said the victims were a mother, her husband and their child. Kirsten said several residents were also evacuated from the beach and were moved to Buffalo Bay.

“Due to thick smoke and heat from the fires in Karatara, motorists have been asked to not travel on roads between George and Plettenberg Bay,” Kirsten said.

According to Kirsten, the N2, between Sedgefield and Plettenberg Bay, had been closed due to the fire.

“The emergency team has confirmed that no one is injured and the air force is on standby.”

The town of Knysna had also lost some phone lines due to the strong winds.

“Residents have been told to inbox the municipality on Facebook, if help is needed,” said Kirsten.

Firefighters from surrounding municipalities have come to the aid of Knysna firefighters. Kirsten said teams from the City of Cape Town municipalities were expected to join the crews on Thursday.

Earlier on Wednesday, George firefighters were deployed to assist with another fire in the Wilderness area.

According to the Western Cape local government department, house along the N2 highway at Touws River was destroyed, also by a fire.

While the Southern Cape did not experience the same significant level of rainfall that hit the Cape Peninsula overnight, strong winds were fanning the fires in the dry, dense vegetation brought on by the drought in the province.

Earlier

Municipality spokeswoman Fran Kirsten said details of the deaths were not immediately available.

Several residents from a local old age home between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay had been evacuated as well as the Brenton community hall.

Kirsten confirmed that there was no rain in the area.

“The only good thing is that there is less wind now, and it is not a gale-force wind any more,” she added.

Fire crews from neighbouring muncipalities were assisting Knysna firefighters.

According to Western Cape local government MEC Anton Bredell’s spokesman James Brent-Styan, the fire in Knysna was “completely out of control and 13 houses at Springveld were evacuated”.

George firefighters were meanwhile deployed to assist with another fire in the Wilderness area.

Styan said a house along the N2 highway was destroyed, also by a fire.

While the Southern Cape did not experience the same significant level of rainfall that hit the Cape Peninsula overnight, strong winds were fanning the fires in dry, dense vegetation.

The storm that is currently beating down on the Western Cape is causing confusion, fear, possibly millions worth of damage, and has already taken the lives of three residents of Rheenendal in Knysna, Knysna Plett Herald reports.

The spokesperson for the Eden District Municipality (EDM) and manager of Disaster Management Community Services, Gerhard Otto, said: “Three people have died in the fire near Rheenendal.”

Furthermore, Otto said the Knysna municipality had activated a local joint operations centre (JOC) at the Knysna Fire Station in order to coordinate local incidents.

“The local fire chief Clinton Manual has requested any support that the Western Cape can send as the fire now threatens Belvidere, and it is spreading fast towards Brenton-on-Sea,” said Otto.

“Subsequently three Working on Fire [WOF] teams have been dispatched to Knysna with 60 additional staff form outside the Eden district, and the SANDF will be contacted in an effort to get aerial support by means of an Oryx,” said Otto.

READ MORE: N2 closed due to raging fire in Western Cape

Otto confirmed that all available staff have been deployed. Staff that was on rest days at home have been called in on overtime, and all the WOF teams in the district have been deployed.

In playing their part, according to Styan, the Western Cape Disaster Management Centre (WCDMC) alerted all stakeholders to ensure that they are on high alert and that their contingency plans are in place.

A major concern for Knysna at the moment, according to Styan, is the fire that has gone out of control.

This relates to fires at Hooggekraal, close to Rheenendal, Kruisfontein plantation (next to N2 close to Nekkies), Hooggekraal fire (Karatara, also known as Elandskraal fire), and the fire towards Plettenberg Bay on the N2 (which remains closed).

The Knysna-Plett Herald is also aware of a fire on the western Heads blazing out of control.

– African News Agency and Caxton News Service

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