TRIAL BY FIRE

Inside the destruction of Knysna


"In the space of half an hour, everything was pretty much gone."

- Adrian Egerty, Knysna resident

Knysna was experiencing hot and dry weather.

The strong winds brought in by the #CapeStorm pushed flames towards homes in Belvidere, Brenton-on-Sea and Rheenendal.

"This fire is burning out of control." - Clinton Manuel, Chief Fire Officer for Knysna Municipality


"The wind is gusting. The town is burning." — Johann, Knysna resident


The lush vegetation that usually greets motorists upon entering Knysna has been reduced to a charred landscape.

An estimated 10 000 people were evacuated from their homes as a result of runaway fires in the area.


DISASTER

Officials have described the Knysna fire as the largest and most destructive fire in a built-up area in recent years. Electricity has been affected by the fires and the water supply in Knysna is beginning to run low.

"Knysna is in perpetual darkness. It's a disaster here. It's crazy. Some people are fire-locked. They have water on the one side and the fire on the mountains on the other side." - Richard Wallis, Knysna resident


SUPPORT

National Resources were activated, which included ground teams and air support.

Additional assistance from firefighters and equipment from the City of Cape Town, Overberg District Municipality, Cape Nature, Working on Fire and the Cape Winelands were activated.


SANDF equipment was used to assist with the water-bombing operation in an attempt to extinguish the blaze.

Pilots operating the military helicopters had a difficult time trying to extinguish the fire due to severe weather conditions in the area.


"You don't know what to pack, you don't know what to leave, you don't know what you are coming back to." - Vicky Roos, Knysna resident


Homes and businesses were reduced to burnt-out shells.

It has been estimated that at least 400 structures have been gutted in the fire.


AT LEAST 7 FATALITIES

A couple and their son could not escape the fire and died in Rheenendal on Wednesday.

An elderly man who lived in Brenton had a heart-attack and died.

A 24-year-old firefighter died in hospital after sustaining burn wounds to 70% of his body.

An Eden District Municipality resident passed away in Tygerberg Hospital.

A 63-year-old volunteer firefighter died while battling the blazes.


About 3000 – 4000 residents have been displaced.

Several evacuated areas were declared safe, and people have begun moving back to their houses.

Most are staying with friends and family, but approximately 800 people are still being accommodated in halls.


All areas are being monitored with extreme vigilance.

The Knysna Municipality says the fires have been contained for now but teams are still monitoring the situation very closely.

Additional firefighters have been deployed to the Plettenberg Bay area. Many have been evacuated from their homes.


MAKE A DIFFERENCE

If you wish to help those who lost their property and possessions in the fire, please contact the Eden District Municipal Council.


Credits

Creative Direction

Iain Gomersall

Writing

Iain Gomersall
EWN staff

Editing

Candace Whitehead
Charlotte Kilbane

Photographer

Thomas Holder (EWN)

Design

Candice Kruger

Sources

Eden District Municipality