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One year later: Knysna community still recovering from wildfires

The blaze crippled the Garden Route town, killed seven people and destroyed more than 1,000 homes.

Firefighters seen near homes in Buffalo Bay, Knysna, after a wildfire broke out. Pictures: Thomas Holder/EWN

CAPE TOWN - A year on from the wildfires that devastated Knysna and hundreds of families affected by the disaster are still being assisted.

The blaze crippled the Garden Route town, killed seven people and destroyed more than 1,000 homes. The municipality says that despite good progress over the past year, a lot more rebuilding still needs to be done.

GALLERY: The Garden Route fires in pictures

The veld fire quickly spread across the Southern Cape. Former Knysna Mayor Eleanore Bouw-Spies spoke to Eyewitness News before a motion of no confidence against her was passed on Wednesday night. She says it was during a council meeting to table the budget that councillors learned of the enormity of the firestorm.

“Our phones started buzzing, the entire municipal senior management just left the podium where they sat on and exited the chamber. And they just came back a few minutes after that. The municipal manager and said to me: ‘Madam mayor, the town is burning, we need to stop this meeting.’”

Officials say the fires destroyed 973 formal houses and about 150 informal structures. Forty-five RDP homes were also affected.

Businesses were also dealt a blow with 151 affected and 47 totally destroyed.

Bouw-Spies says various initiatives are still underway to address the needs of more than 1,600 households registered for assistance.

WATCH: Strong winds fan flames in Knysna

And in spite of the political drama at Knysna’s municipality, the town will mark the one anniversary of the wildfires that ravaged the region. Bouw-Spies says a sculpture to honour those who died, residents who lost their homes and the firefighters who battled the disaster will be unveiled on Thursday afternoon.

“The statue is not just a statue. It captures the essence of perseverance, hope, allegiance and commitment.”

Knysna residents affected by the fires continue to rebuild their lives. Local, Adrian Hegerty, says the tragedy has brought his neighbourhood closer together.

“Our house was pretty much the first to be rebuilt after the fires. In the process, they concentrated on rebuilding the Knysna Heights area and rebuilding for our neighbours. The area is looking so much better and there’s a great vibe among the people.”

(Edited by Shimoney Regter)

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