News / South Africa

Yadhana Jadoo
2 minute read
13 Jun 2017
5:45 am

Knysna disaster: Devastating fires may be natural phenomenon

Yadhana Jadoo

Some have alleged it could have been arson, but investigations need to be completed first.

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

Mopping-up operations have begun following the devastating Knysna fires and scientists are speculating that “spontaneous combustion” – a natural phenomenon in dense forests – may have sparked the blazes.

This is one theory, according to the South African National Parks (SANParks) but it is yet to be confirmed. “It really is something to think about,” SANParks spokesperson Nandi Mgwadlamba said.

“Some people say arson could have been the cause, but we think it’s a natural phenomenon.”

However, the cause of the fires still needs to be investigated once mopping up has been completed and the municipality has hired investigators.

“Right now, the priority is mopping up,” said Mgwadlamba, who revealed that the Garden Route was once called the Cape of Smoke because of the number of fires in the area.

SANParks has confirmed that the Knysna forest was not badly affected by the fires but, as a precautionary measure, roads leading to Gouna and Diepwalle were closed due to the flames.

So, wild animals were not affected, including a species of midge found in the Gouna River, Knysna elephants, leopards and baboons. Mgwadlamba said SANParks had teams monitoring high seas on the Tsitsikamma coast.

Mopping-up operations have begun over the 300km fire line, with 1 016 volunteers, who are managed by a provincial joint operating committee, taking part.

SANParks is involved through its fire teams and rangers, who are on standby to offer expertise to the people of Knysna and are helping to develop a geographic information system (GIS) map.

This was necessary so that the loss of infrastructure due to the fire could be adequately assessed. Planning manager for the Garden Route National Park Len du Plessis called for volunteers to assist in the GIS assessment of the area from Knysna to Rheenendal.

“They must be in good health, have their own transport and own chainsaws,” Du Plessis said.