Category: <span>Fire Fighting</span>

Saluting Women Firefighters at Garden Route District Municipality

Garden Route District Municipality is home to seven (7) Women Firefighters, who form part of a group of 40 Firefighters (including station officers and fire chief). Although being underrepresented in a male-dominated environment, they are a force to reckon with.

Structural and cultural factors have a definite influence on the disproportionately low representation of women in firefighting. Such factors often play a role in making the career-choice seem inhospitable to women. Despite this, a “conscious and continuous” attempt by educators, firefighters and parents can help expose youngsters, especially women, to the profession.


During an interview with six of the seven women Firefighters at GRDM, who include Ms Bonita Conrad, Ms Kuthala Maki, Ms Odri-Anne Booysen, Ms Devonia Cupido, Ms Elana Basson and Ms Michelle Smalberger, a few assumptions were presented to them.

Assumption 1: Women have to first showcase their knowledge and experience in firefighting before being accepted by their male counterparts.

  • All women firefighters felt that this was true.

 Assumption 2: There is a sense of pressure on women to do the same or even better than their male counterparts.

  • Interviewees felt the assumption was correct, but despite this, acknowledged that they do not feel that they are treated unequally to their counterparts at GRDM.

When asked what the most important parts of their firefighting jobs are, they agreed that “protecting lives, infrastructure and the environment,” are at the top of their list of reasons.

Near the end of the interview, a question was asked with the intent of making women firefighters think about their worth and potential. “Would you consider fighting in an all-women team?” One firefighter responded by saying – “we need men by our side to fight fires”. Moments later, one firefighter challenged this response and said: “We will be able to fight a fire on our own. Why are we doubting our own capabilities?” With this moment of truth, interviewees had a moment to think deeply about these misperceptions.

Now the question is why did these powerful women for a moment think that they wouldn’t be able to face a fire as an all-women team? Is it a cultural phenomenon? Something we see on television, hear on the radio or read about in newspapers? What really shapes this perception? This is one of the many questions we have to ask ourselves to break the glass ceiling.

One of the Senior Firefighters, Ms Bonita Conrad, twice over the past few years came out at the top of her age group at the South African Toughest Firefighter Alive Competition.

Six (6) of the seven (7) women firefighters at Garden Route District Municipality, front (fltr): Ms Odri-Anne Booysen and Ms Michelle Smalberger. Back (fltr): Ms Elana Basson, Ms Kuthala Maki, Ms Devonia Cupido and Ms Bonita Conrad.


GRDM has also been dedicated to gender-transformation in firefighting for more than a decade. The District Municipality, in 2006, was the first to appoint a woman Fire Chief in the Western Cape – Ms Annelise Lamprecht-Virtue. She is truly a trailblazer in the field of firefighting. During the October 2018 Garden Route fires  Western Cape Government tasked Annelise to assist the district and local municipalities in providing strategic leadership. Her tenure at Western Cape Government as the Assistant Director: Fire and Rescue Services, started in January 2012. Annelise confirmed during a telephonic interview that she will take up a position as Fire Chief at Witzenberg Municipality on 1 September 2019.

Garden Route District Municipality wishes Ms Lamprecht-Virtue all of the best with her future endeavours.


Wildfire in Ruitersbos, Mossel Bay

Garden Route Wildfire Update, Ruitersbos 2019/05/14 @ 13:45

Ruiterbos Wildfire Extinguished

Garden Route District Municipality’s fire fighters have departed from the Ruitersbos area. Cape Nature and Witfontein Working on Fire crew members will continue with mopping-up operations and will monitor the area for any flare-ups.


Garden Route Fire Update, Ruitersbos 2019/05/14 @ 11:00

Affected area stretching over approximately 6 hectares. The wildfire is reported to be under control and not posing a threat to life or infrastructure.

Role players / teams on the scene:
Garden Route DM
Mossel Bay Municipality
Cape Nature


Garden Route Fire Update, Ruitersbos 2019/05/14 @ 10:00

Mossel Bay Fire Services requested assistance from Garden Route District Municipality Fire Services.

Initial Response:
5 Crew
1 Skid Unit
1 Medium Pumper

Issued by Garden Route DM


More updates will be posted to our social media page:

Garden Route District Municipality wins the IFFD Challenge

It was once again a glorious occasion for the Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) Fire Fighters, when they walked away in victory after winning the International Fire Fighters Day (IFFD) Challenge the past weekend. Overstrand Municipality ended up in the second place and Overberg District Municipality third.

Municipal Manager of Garden Route District Municipality, Mr Monde Stratu, shared a special moment with the team to congratulate them personally. FLTR: Mr Emile Conrad (left), Mr Hein Leslie (2nd left), Mr Armien Bailey (2nd right) and Mr Edwin Lottering (right). Mr Bennie van Vuuren could not be present during the photograph session.

The competition took place in Stellenbosch from 3 to 5 May 2019 and was hosted by the Stellenbosch Municipality at “Die Braak.  This main purpose of the event was to acknowledge the significance of firefighters in the Western Cape Province and it also placed emphasis on the remembrance of fire fighters who lost their lives in the line of duty.

After the Communication Unit of GRDM spoke to the firefighters about their preparation for the competition, it became evident that no competition-focused practice sessions took place prior to the event, as all firefighters have to be fit at all time, to effectively perform their duties on a daily basis.

Mr Emile Conrad, captain of the crew (left), Municipal Manager of Garden Route District Municipality, Mr Monde Stratu (middle), and Mr Hein Leslie, Leader of the Garden Route District Municipality team (right).

A team member who participates in competitions of this standard must show outstanding skills such as endurance, determination, to be focused and to have consistent strength.  Participants resembled all these characteristics throughout the six challenges. The format of the event also included a parade through the streets, a ceremony to honor the lives of the fire fighters who passed away in their line of duty and squad drilling to depict the importance of the firefighters in society. Approximately 1500 people attended the event.

Senior Fire fighter, Mr Emile Conrad, is well-known for being the South African Toughest Fire fighter Alive and for his top performance at the all related competitions. For Senior Fire fighter, Mr Edwin Lottering, it was his nineth year of participation in competitions of this nature and therefore his skills and previous experience contributed greatly to their success. For Mr Hein Leslie (team leader), it was a third experience, for Mr Bennie van Vuuren’s, a third and for Mr Armien Bailey a second.  The skill and knowledge of these participants, as well as their level of commitment and strength complemented each other to be able to achieve the outcome of their participation.

When sharing their overall experience of the competition, Mr Conrad said that he drew inspiration from how all firefighters came together to unite for one purpose, but also from seeing how firefighters which are already known to one another due to past competition participation, encouraged and motivated each other.  On the other hand, Mr Bailey highlighted:  “Seeing that I grew up in Stellenbosch, it was a privilege for me to notice that the residents from my home town saw the progress in me as firefighter, as all challenges were firefighting-related – it was indeed encouraging and it kept me going”.

The Garden District Municipality council, management and staff extended messages to the participants before, throughout and after the competition, to share their support with the team members.  Congratulations once again to Heinrich Leslie as team leader, Emile Conrad (crew captain), Edwin Lottering, Armien Bailey and Bennie van Vuuren for making the entire Garden Route district proud!

The South African Toughest Fire Fighter Alive competition is expected to take place in Cape Town from 20 to 21 September 2019 and the GRDM team, if considered, is ready to participate in the competition.

Annual Fire Commemoration event to look at climate change 

The Annual Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) event, to be hosted on 7 June to mark the devastating wildfire that ravaged the town and surrounds of Knysna in 2017, will broaden its scope in order to also look at the effects of climate change in the region,” says Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) Municipal Manager, Mr Monde Stratu.

Continues Stratu, “Not only the Knysna wildfire disaster, but also regional wildfire disasters before and after the dramatic 7 June 2017 event, hint at a vulnerable environment grappling to deal with a change in climate, and  a region exposed to risks associated with drought, wildfire and a constant loss of biodiversity and natural habitat”.

“What we want to achieve is to support and promote efforts for a better prepared, more resilient and climate-ready Southern Cape and Garden Route,” concludes Stratu.

Burnt landscape 2 Natural Disasters indicate that the effects of climate change are real and likely to increase.

Says Cobus Meiring on behalf of the GREF Secretariat, “Natural disasters on an unprecedented scale, such as the Outeniqua fires and the more recent tropical cyclone Idai, raising havoc in the city of Beira in bordering Mozambique, must serve as a clarion call for communities and authorities alike, that climate change is real and no-one is immune to its effects”.

According to Meiring vulnerable communities, such as those living in the Great and Klein Karoo continue to suffer the long-term knock-on effect of extended periods of drought, with farmers abandoning their operations, leaving reliant communities destitute.

More detail on the commemoration event will be made available in due course on the GREF website:

Photo caption: Natural disasters such as the 2017 Knysna fires, perpetual drought in the Klein and Great Karoo, and the more recent cyclone Idai in bordering Mozambique are indicators that the effects of climate change are real and likely to increase, and the Garden Route must plan for survival.

* The intense tropical cyclone Idai was one of the worst tropical cyclones on record to affect Africa and the Southern Hemisphere. The long-lived storm caused catastrophic damage in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, leaving more than 1000 people dead and thousands more missing. Idai is the second-deadliest tropical cyclone recorded in the South-West Indian Ocean basin, behind only the 1892 Mauritius cyclone. In the Southern Hemisphere, it currently ranks as the third-deadliest tropical cyclone on record, behind the aforementioned 1892 Mauritius cyclone and the 1973 Flores cyclone. (Wikipedia –

** The Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) is a regional forum for collaboration in conservation, environmental adaptation and community interaction. The forum aims to coordinate regional conservation efforts, serve as a catalyst to drive climate adaption practices in the Southern Cape and strive to establish a better-coordinated approach to environmental management.




Cobus Meiring: Cobus Meiring: Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) Secretariat

Cell: 083 626 7619


Forum to commemorate the Knysna fires of 7 June 2017

“The Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM), incorporating the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF), is looking at the establishment of an annual commemoration event for the 2017 Knysna fires. The forum is currently planning to host a seminar on Friday June 7 to review the environmental preparedness of the Southern Cape regarding risks associated with fire and drought,” says Nina Viljoen, Manager: Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation at the Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) and a spokesperson for the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).

The countryside near Vermaaklikheid resembled a lunar landscape following the devastating wildfire in 2018. The recovery of vegetation in the Southern Cape – following the devastation of some 100 000 hectares in 2018 – is a matter of concern where black wattle and other invasive alien plants are making an unwelcome appearance on the landscape.

“Much has happened in terms of regional disaster prevention and management since the widespread destruction caused by the 2017 Knysna and Plettenberg Bay fires, not to mention the 2018 devastation of some 100 000 hectares along the Outeniqua Mountains, Still Bay and Vermaaklikheid, claiming still more lives and causing untold damage to the regional economy,” says Viljoen.

At a recent workshop hosted at the Nelson Mandela University’s (NMU) Saasveld Campus, options were discussed to generate funds sufficient to address and reduce risks associated with invasive alien biomass in the Southern Cape landscape. In dealing with the aftermath of the respective fire disasters, the Executive Mayor of the Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM), Councillor Memory Booysen, was quoted as suggesting a tax on landowners to generate funds for invasive alien plant biomass reduction on the landscape. This was merely a discussion point and what was meant by his point-of-view was that we should be open for a debate on how we, as a collective, can become more prepared for future disasters.

Booysen pointed out that there was general agreement that much more must be done by both landowners and authorities to reduce risks if we were to safeguard the region from a recurrence of the 2017 and 2018 fires.

Fire-risk reduction is but one of several environmental matters hitting the GREF spotlight

The proposed 7 June Fire Commemoration seminar will look at the overarching research and strategy development that has taken place over the past two years regarding environmental risk reduction in the region, and the physical measures that have been implemented. The seminar will also provide a roadmap of what is planned for the region in the coming months.

Further announcements on the seminar will be made in due course and information will be published on the GREF website: closer to the event.

** The Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) is a regional forum for collaboration in conservation, environmental adaptation and community interaction. The forum aims to coordinate regional conservation efforts, serve as a catalyst to drive climate adaption practices in the Southern Cape and strive to establish a better-coordinated approach to environmental management.

Firefighters battle blazes for a month

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.
The Outeniqua mountain was once a lush-green sight for travelers and residents of the Garden Route – but now it has been left lifeless.

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);
  • Geelhoutvlei Timbers: 5 structures;
  • Geelhoutvlei Timbers Sawmill completely destroyed;
  • Garden route horse trails: four (4) structures;
  • Farleigh/Bosdorp: 13 completely destroyed and 8 badly damaged;
  • Bergplaas: 1 structure;
  • On farms ( total not confirmed); and
  • Various plantations burned – approximately 3700 Ha.

Areas pro-actively evacuated during this fire: (+/- 1000 people)

From George urban fringe settlements to halls in George (+/- 395 people)

From Knysna rural areas to halls in Knysna (+/- 250people)

From Mossel Bay – MTO Jonkersberg to the Van Der Hoven School (+/- 136 people)

From Hessequa – MTO Garcia pass to nearby school ( +/-55 people)


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

Severe Weather Alerts issued by the Cape Town Weather Office

Hazard: Damaging Winds

Alert Level: Warning

Valid from (SAST): 29/10/18, 01h00 – Valid to (SAST): 30/10/18, 11h00

WARNING: Gale force W/SW winds of 65-75km/h is expected along the coast between Hermanus and Plettenberg Bay tonight (Monday), into tomorrow (Tuesday) morning.

ADVISORY: Strong interior winds (50-65km/h) are expected over the Matzikama Municipality, Breede River Valley, Central and Little Karoo today (Monday), into early tomorrow (Tuesday) morning.

Description: Strong damaging winds
Strong damaging winds often occur along coastal regions, but also often occur during thunderstorm activity. These winds are sudden and can cause much damage.

Precautions:  Strong damaging winds
Stay indoors where possible away from the windows that open towards the severe winds. Be aware of the following: – sudden cross winds if traveling especially between buildings, fallen trees or power lines and flying debris.
Small boats must stay away from the open sea and seek the shelter of a harbour, river estuary or protected bay.
Parked aircraft should be pointed into the direction of the wind and secured.  Listen to the radio or TV for warnings and obey the instructions from the Disaster Management Officers.

Description: Storm surges / High Seas

Generally heavy seas or damaging waves are a result of strong winds blowing over a large area called a fetch combined with low pressure systems. Long period swells are often very dangerous to tankers as they may literally snap them in half. Dangerous waves or surges may also be caused by storm surges and tsunami’s resulting in widespread coastal damage and loss of life.

In oceanography, a sea state is the general condition of the free surface on a large body of water—with respect to wind waves and swell—at a certain location and moment. A sea state is characterized by statistics, including the wave height, period, and power spectrum. The sea state varies with time, as the wind conditions or swell conditions change.

Precautions: Storm surges / High Seas

Ships should “idle” into the swell and wind so that the bow of the ship always faces the oncoming swell. If in a small sailing vessel reduce the sail area and steer into the oncoming swell. If along the shore-line stay well back from the highest high water mark as Secure all hatches, doors, windows and ports. Secure all loose items in the interior.

Pump the bilge’s dry and keep pumping them dry at regular intervals. Stow away all loose gear and lash down any large items that cannot be stowed. Break out your life preservers and inform your crew that everyone will be putting them on well in advance of their necessity.

Break out emergency gear like flares and first aid kit, sea anchor, safety harnesses, etc.  Check your position and update your course as plotted on your chart. Prepare alternative routes to more protected areas. If you think you will be in for relatively long haul prepare some hot soup, coffee or stew freak waves may run up beyond the normal high water mark.

If the sea recedes exposing rock and sea bed normally not exposed immediately seek higher ground at least 50m above your current position. Do not try swimming or fishing or other marine recreation during these events. Only extremely experienced surfers will temp their fate under these conditions.

Listen to the radio or TV for warnings and obey the instructions from Disaster Management Officers.