Garden Route residents evacuated as fires rage out of control

Hundreds of people have been evacuated in the Garden Route as one of the country's biggest fires rages on.

Fires raging on the N2 near Witelsbos forced traffic authorities to close the freeway at Trivolia bridge as a precautionary measure on Sunday.

Gerard Otto‚ head of disaster management at the Garden Route District Municipality‚ said on Saturday that 252 residents‚ including six babies‚ had been evacuated from towns in the fire's path as a precaution.

"Those who have been evacuated are from towns in the Goudveld area as well as from Jonkersberg‚ and Buffelsnek."

Otto said dense smoke‚ which had reduced visibility‚ was making it impossible to fight the fire from the air.

"At this point only the military's Oryx helicopters‚ which have the necessary instruments‚ can fight the fire from the air.

"This is by far the country's biggest fire in a populated area to have occurred. We have more than 85‚000 hectares that are burning. In last year's Knysna fires‚ which were four times smaller than this fire‚ 22‚000 hectares were destroyed."

He said the fire was at least 35km wide and had a front of more than 180km.

"It is a truly massive fire."

Plumes of thick smoke rising from several fires‚ which have been burning for days‚ could be seen from space.

The Joint Operations Centre (JOC) at Garden Route District Municipality said in an update on Sunday that firefighters had worked tirelessly throughout the night.

“Last night the wind died down‚ but this morning the situation changed again …. Additional resources have arrived and are deployed to the high-risk areas.”

The Outeniqua pass was expected to remain open but the Prins Alfred pass between Uniondale and Knysna was closed as a precautionary measure. The fires have seen entire communities being evacuated from their homes.

About 150 people from Diepwalle were being evacuated on Sunday by SANParks as a precautionary measure. Jonkersberg community members (136) who were evacuated earlier were returning home on Sunday.

Goudveld residents (42) were being looked after at the Rheenendal community hall and 74 people from Buffelsnek had been relocated to Wittedrift.

Two wildfires‚ about 4km apart in Jonkersberg and Outeniqua‚ were expected to meet up on Sunday. “One house is in danger on a koppie in this area. Unfortunately‚ this home has no defendable space around it and is surrounded by dense vegetation‚” said the JOC.

“On the northern side‚ the wildfire caused the powerline which feeds electricity to Oudtshoorn to trip. Assessments are currently being done by Eskom on this line.”

Several back burns had been created to contain fires in various parts of the southern Cape. In addition to an army of firefighters deployed on the ground‚ aircraft and helicopters from Working on Fire and the SANDF are being used to contain the fires.