On 21 October 2018 wildfires ignited in Vermaaklikheid near Riversdale in Hessequa. A few days later, more wildfires started in the George municipal area. The Disaster Management Centre of Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) recorded 12 wildfires over the month of October/November 2018, which also resulted in the death of 9 people, including a Working on Fire pilot.
Said to be one of the biggest wildfires recorded since the great wildfire of 1869, the Garden Route is facing a new “normal”. The change can be seen across the globe and it is almost common knowledge that climate change is not on our side. This poses an important question – how can we address this? Can we prevent these type of occurrences in the future or are we doomed?
In short, the Head of Disaster Management at Garden Route District Municipality, Mr Gerhard Otto explains: “ Municipalities and stakeholders, together as a collective we have to develop a system to better plan for fires in our wildland-urban interphase (WUI). Our town planners need to factor wildland fire risk into future development planning and our bylaws, as well as building codes, will have to be altered to ensure resilience to this type of fire incidents. With this, I mean that there should be adequate by-laws in place to address issues like high fire hazard areas. When we look at the urban fringes (where homes at the edge of neighbourhoods meet the forests), inhabitants should be made aware of the fire risk in these areas and a defensible space should be created around all properties not only to create a buffer area but also to provide a space from where firefighters could launch their firefighting actions when fires do approach these areas. In my opinion, the current fragmented approach to fire service delivery is central to many of our challenges, the sooner we centralise firefighting services by establishing a metropolitan municipality and address integrated veld fire management the better – “all efforts should be coordinated from one central authority”. He also added: ”During the recent wildfires, we managed to pull resources from all over South Africa together to work at our Joint Operations Centre at the GRDM head office. I know that since last year’s Knysna fires we have improved the way in which we do things, but there is always room for improvement”.
The following role players must be thanked for their selfless dedication to protect our communities and infrastructure over the past month: Provincial Disaster Management Centre, Working on Fire (WoF), South African National Defence Force, Cape Nature, SANParks, George Municipality, Knysna Municipality, Oudtshoorn Municipality, Bitou Municipality, Hessequa Municipality, Mossel Bay Municipality, Kannaland Municipality, Overberg DM, Cape Winelands DM, West Coast DM, City of Cape Town, Various NGOs and FBOs (Lions Alert, Rotary SA, Gift of the Givers, Garden Route Rebuild), SPCA, National and Provincial Departments, Department of Health, EMS, Human settlements, Rural Development, Housing Development Agency, Department of Agriculture, Department of Education, SASSA, DSD, ESKOM, Department of Transport, Provincial Traffic and SAPS.
All controlled burning of land in the Garden Route is prohibited.
Controlled burns are not permitted to be done by any person other than the fire control authorities.
It has come under the attention of the Garden Route DM Joint Operations Centre (JOC) that some land owners are attempting to start controlled burns.
Everyone needs to adhere to these precautionary measures until further notice.
The municipality appeals to all people who live, work and visit the area to exercise extreme caution at all times; to make fires in protected and designated areas only, and to dispose of cigarette butts safely. There is a long, hot summer ahead and we need everyone to help in keeping our region safe.
For more information regarding fire permits, contact:
George – 044 801 6300
Hessequa – 028 713 8000
Mossel Bay – 044 606 5107
Kannaland – 044 805 5071
Oudtshoorn – 044 203 8911
Knysna – 044 302 8911
Bitou – 044 533 5000
For enquiries relating to wildfires, contact the Garden Route DM JOC on 044 805 5071.
On Wednesday 24 October a fire in the Harold area was reported to the Garden Route District Municipality’s (GRDM) Disaster Management Centre (DMC) but at that point in time all available resources was still tied up at a fire raging at Vermaaklikheid.
Teams from the George Municipality responded to this fire and were joined by teams from the GRDM on the following day. The magnitude of the incident, as well as the potential risk of the fire led to the establishment of an Incident Management Team (IMT) and a Forward Control Point (FCP) was established at Witfontein. In addition to the Harold/George fire this IMT was informed of another fire on SANParks ground near Farleigh. San Parks informed the IMT that this fire is managed by their staff and was under control.
The fire spread in the Outeniqua Pass in areas not accessible by foot and was spreading towards the George Municipal area. One South African National Defense Force (SANDF) Oryx helicopter, two aerial tractors (fixed wing aircraft designed to bomb water) as well as two Huey helicopters from Working on Fire (WoF) and one private helicopter, were contracted to assist with firefighting operations. Unfortunately, at critical times during the firefighting operations, these resources could not be activated due to poor visibility making it impossible to use aerial resources.
The first areas threatened, included settlements on the northern side of the mountain. These included Waboomskraal, Eselsjacht, Harold and Louvain. Extremely dry and windy conditions led to the rapid spread of this wildfire endangering George from the North on Monday 29 October 2018 leading to the call of voluntary evacuations in various areas of the town.
By Monday evening, 29 October 2018, 262 people were evacuated to the George Civic Centre (121 children, 137 adults, 11 elderly) in addition 133 students evacuated from the Nelson Mandela University campus in George (NMU). They were housed by Faith Based Organisations (FBOs) in George. The people evacuated in George were advised that they could return to their houses once the smoke has cleared and the area became safe.
In addition to the Harold/George wildfire, lightning during late Monday afternoon ignited wildfires in the following areas:
Hessequa municipal area: Grootvadersbosch, Garcia Pass,
Knysna municipal area : De Vlugt,
Mossel Bay municipal area: Jonkersberg,
Kannaland municipal area: Opsoek in the Swartberg mountains.
Around this time, the IMT was also informed that the wildfires on the Eastern Cape border near Stormsriver was completely out of control and the N2 would have had to be closed off periodically.
Due to gale force winds in the Karatara area (wind speed measured on the site reached 109 km/h), the wildfire on SANParks ground spread past the natural vegetation (normally seen as a wildfire break) and surprised the residents at Farleigh “ Bosdorp” Unfortunately 8 lives were lost when 13 of the 28 houses at the Bosdorp were completely destroyed.
The Department of Social Services personnel have been rendering trauma counselling to the bereaved as well as those traumatised by the wildfires. SASSA will assist where possible.
During the entire incident the Department of Education has arranged for school children to stay by safe school grounds until conditions at home turned back to ”normal”. They also provided accommodation at hostels for grade 12 learners who could have been affected by the wildfires where they resided – these learners are busy with their final-year exams at the moment.
During Monday afternoon on 29 October 2018, the Eskom powerlines providing power to Knysna, Bitou as well as Oudtshoorn, were affected by the wildfires which led to these areas being without power for a short period of time. Fortunately, the electricity was back up before the evening. On Wednesday, 31 October 2018, the power supply to the NMU was re- connected. Yesterday, for a second time, the power supply to Oudtshoorn had to be cut as teams had to work directly under the high voltage lines in the Highlands Lodge area (Waboomskraal). The power was partially re-connected at 17h00 yesterday afternoon.
On Sunday evening 28 October 2018, the wildfires posed a real threat to the George waterworks but with well-timed back-burns this threat was eliminated.
Most of the patients treated by the George hospital and clinics were due to smoke inhalation. Two of the people injured at the Karatara wildfire are still being treated at the George Hospital.
Yesterday, 4 November 2018, the main areas of concern included the:
northern flank moving towards Highlands lodge and farms in the Langkloof;
western flank moving towards the main power supply line of Oudtshoorn;
active fire line on the East at Buffelsnek/ Keurbooms River mowing towards the Kransbos community; and
Garcia plantation wildfire.
Structures lost to date:
Ou Tolhuis on Montagu Pass;
Beervlei: three (3) structures completely destroyed and 8 badly damaged;
Protea Valley: 6 structures destroyed (they were empty);
Garden Route District Municipality and Local Municipalities in the region, would like to advise residents and visitors that the discharge of fireworks from any area (including your own backyard) is not permitted at any time. Discharging of any firecrackers or emergency flares for celebratory purposes are also prohibited.
We would also like to appeal to residents and visitors not to use so-called ‘Chinese lanterns’ as these pose a significant fire risk.
The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) also asks people not to use sky lanterns as they float out to sea and are often reported as emergency flares, which in turn cause Sea Rescue hours of fruitless searching.
Let us work together to make these fire season safe for all.
Please report the setting off of fireworks or the trade of fireworks to the following numbers:
Mossel Bay – 044 606 5107
George – 044 801 6301
Oudtshoorn – 044 203 7800
Bitou – 044 533 5000
Knysna – 044 302 8911
Hessequa – 084 014 1828 / 028 713 8000
Kannaland – 044 805 5071
Garden Route District Municipality Emergency Call Centre – 044 805 5071
Dignitaries from Government departments, local government, forestry companies, media houses, academic and research institutions, as well as landowners, attended the 2018 Fire Management Symposium at the George Campus of the Nelson Mandela University from 3 to 5 October 2018.
The Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) sponsored an amount of R100 000 towards this event which attracted more than 200 delegates, both locally as well as abroad.
In officially opening the event on 3 October 2018, Ms Pumeza Nodada, Acting Deputy Director-General for Forestry and Natural Resource Management, acknowledged that only by sharing the scarce resources across public & private sectors, we would be able to give effect to integrated veldt fire management (IFM). She pleaded that continuous efforts by all role players are needed to improve IFM. Ms Nodada also acknowledged the services currently rendered by institutions like Working on Fire and other organisations and highlighted: “These programmes are still contributing greatly to building the concept of integrated fire management”.
Dr Mmaphaka Tau, Deputy Director-General (Head) of the National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC), shared with the delegates that South Africa experiences increasing levels of disaster risks which exposes us to a wide range of weather hazards. “The interplay of these hazards point to the need for an integrated approach and sustainable mechanisms in the management of the risks it poses,” Dr Mmapahaka added.
By using the eco-systems approach, Dr Mmapahaka said: “We must surely by now understand the threat of invasive alien species” and acknowledges that there is a need to prioritise the clearing of these species, as it affects our water security as well”.
Cllr Barend Groenewald, Acting Speaker of GRDM, during his address, on behalf of the GRDM Executive Mayor, Cllr Memory Booysen, emphasised the following: “It is a known fact that all communities are vulnerable to the impact of various types of disasters, especially those who are not as fortunate as others. Many members of society still barely have enough to fulfil their basic human needs. As decision-makers and administrators who render services to communities, we have to recognise the diversity of our communities, adjust to the challenges of a dynamic environment and most importantly manage situations to the best of our ability with due consideration of scarce resources at our disposal”.
Mr Paul Buchholz, Project Manager of the Environmental work stream of the former Garden Route Rebuild Initiative (GRRI), elaborated on the activities performed soon after the outbreak of the June 2017 fires in the Garden Route and how these activities were maintained. Efforts ensured successful outcomes to prevent further damage to affected areas, e.g. one such activity was the installation of 34 kilometres of fire sausages (soil erosion prevention booms) at the most damaged and affected areas to ensure that sediment does not flow down from higher geographical areas. Mr Buchholz acknowledged that this could not have been successfully implemented without the assistance of geographic information systems (GIS) to analyse the high-risk areas. A drone was also used to spot the most affected areas in order to prioritise and guide intervention initiatives.
The involvement of communities was also high on the agenda, when various role-players acknowledged that decisions cannot be taken without community inputs. “We need to include our communities in decision-making processes; we need to have value in the protection of assets e.g. trees, infrastructure etc,” Mr Mr Leo Long, Senior Practitioner for Training and Skills Development at South African Forestry Companies Limited (SAFCOL) said. “An inclusive evacuation plan needs to be developed and communicated. Identify, communicate and maintain safe areas of which in where the community can actively take part in,” Mr Long highlighted.
Prof. Ed Kirtley, Assistant Dean at the College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology from the Oklahoma State University, also acknowledged the importance of community involvement. Through his presentation which was live-streamed at the event, he advised that formal and informal leaders need to be engaged with as soon as possible after an event and said: “Authentically engage with the community in decision making, debate conflicting ideas, act, decide and move forward’’ and added that these relationships must be maintained.
Mr Axel Jooste from SAPPI Forestry presented “A Case of Factory Blindness” when he made an example of the case study of the Apollo 1 space mission fire that killed three astronauts of which the accident inquest was the “failure of imagination”. Mr Jooste posed a question to the audience: “Are we also guilty of oversight: missing, overlooking, lack of imagination, blindness and blind spots?”.
The first day’s event followed by two more days of active participation and a gala evening which the Executive Mayor of GRDM, Cllr Memory Booysen, and former Principal of the Nelson Mandela University in George, Prof. Quinton Johnson, also attended. At the gala evening, these dignitaries addressed the audience about the issue of the expropriation of land which left many delegates with something important to think about.
SEVERE WEATHER ALERT (ORANGE)
Level 5 Warning for RAIN for 7-8 September 2018.
The main areas to be affected will be:
Mossel Bay (LM)
Knysna (LM); and
Please note that the YELLOW Level 3 Warning for RAIN issued yesterday remains in place for Hessequa Municipality for 7-8 September.
The Garden Route Disaster Management Centre in collaboration with the South African Weather Service will be monitoring the progress of this storm, please activate your local severe weather contingency arrangements and keep the Garden Route Disaster Management Centre updated of any severe weather-related incidents.
Significant rainfall and intense downpours are expected on Friday, 7 September 2018, where flooding may be a risk. Thunderstorms are also possible. At this point, rainfall amounts expected 20-40mm along the South Coast (Riversdale to Plettenberg bay) and 50mm in the mountains. Also to note is that light rain is expected from Wednesday through to Saturday morning along the South Coast, which will act to saturate the ground.
Less snowfall expected, compared to the initial assessments done on Monday. Although snowfalls still very likely for both Thursday and Friday over the Langeberge, Swartberge and Nuweveld berge, the snowfall will be lighter for the Outeniqua mountains than initially expected. Very cold weather will be persisting from today through to the weekend though.
However, please note that the models have not been consistent over the last few days in terms of amounts and locations, and thus the SAWS will monitor further.
Eden Distriksmunisipaliteit (Eden DM) se Rampbestuur en Brandweer afdelings het die Van Der Hoven Laerskool besoek. Die skool bestaan uit 4 onderwysers, ‘n sekretaresse en 75 leerders tot en met Graad 5.
Mnr Gerhard Otto van Eden DM het die verskillende afdelings aan die personeel en leerders voorgestel. Tydens die aktiwiteite het me Gail Bekeer noodhulpwenke aan die kinders verduidelik en me Tippie Bouwer het noodnommers aan die leerders verskaf. Brandweerpersoneel het ‘n skuim demonstrasie gedoen en die kinders hul ‘bunker’ pakke laat aantrek. Ter afsluiting, is kerrie en rys aan die leerders bedien, waarna ‘goodie bags’ en sakke vol klere aan almal oorhandig is.
Die skoolhoof, me Anita Oosthuizen, het die Eden span hartlik bedank vir die gebaar.