Mopping up continues in fire areas
Fires along the Garden Route and in the Tsitsikamma area are mostly under control, with the cooler weather and lower wind speeds bringing much needed relief.
This comes after a chaotic weekend which led to six small towns along the Garden Route being evacuated as wildfires, fanned by strong winds, raged out of control.
By Monday morning, five fires were still burning around the George district, and 11 in the Tsitsikamma area – most of which were under control.
Mopping-up operations were under way at most of the areas where the fires had been extinguished.
Since the start of the bush fires about three weeks ago, more than 92,000ha of vegetation as well as properties have been destroyed.
This includes about 20 homes and structures such as saw mills on pine plantations.
About 2,000 people have been displaced, some during precautionary evacuations, while the death toll is nine – including six children.
Resources to fight the blazes have since been increased to six spotter planes, five Working on Fire helicopters, a SAAF helicopter, three water-bombing planes, about 40 fire-fighting vehicles and 400 firefighters.
The R339 between Knysna and Uniondale was still closed on Monday afternoon.
Western Cape premier Helen Zille and mayors from across the region visited the George district joint operations centre on Monday to get an overview on the impact of the wildfires.
Garden Route District Municipality spokesperson Herman Pieters said Sunday night’s cool weather and low-speed winds enabled firefighters to get the fires under control.
“These conditions reduced the running lines on the northern fire line and reduced the heat intensity of flare-ups along these lines,” he said.
“They did, however, raise fire lines on the southern fire line. Fire lines were active in the De Vlugt area.
“Flare-ups were contained through Sunday evening and the early hours of Monday.
“Flare-ups at the moment are minimal and many lines have effectively been contained, but the long distances and accessibility of lines do make mopping up slow and difficult in places.”
Pieters said the weather conditions were conducive to mopping up, which could increase containment to 80%.
It also meant more operational teams could be given some rest time to prepare for the hotter weather expected later in the week.
The latest evacuation was on Sunday night in the Garcia area, near Riversdale, with the residents moved to the Riversdale Rugby Stadium.
Pieters said the Herold fire, which is moving towards George, was still active on the Jonkersberg Mountain, while the fire bordering the Highlands Lodge – a self-catering resort on the Outeniqua Mountains – had been contained.
The De Vlugt fire – which has been burning for more than a week – was still active.
In the Tsitsikamma area, damage was caused to plantations, waterworks and fence lines, with no serious injuries or deaths reported.
Eastern Cape Working on Fire spokesperson Nthabiseng Mokone said no communities were under threat.
“The current fires are spread over 80km from Coldstream in the west to Palmietvlei in the east,” she said.
“The total area affected between the catchment and coast is approximately 40,000ha, of which the burn scar is approximately 6,000ha.
“The fire is burning uncontrolled in the catchment area due to its inaccessibility.”
Mokone said while only 30% of the fires in the Tsitsikamma area were contained, the cooler weather conditions could allow them to increase the containment to 80%.
She said the first blaze started on October 23 in the Lottering plantation in Storms River, which was contained and declared safe four days later.
“A second series of fires started due to lightning between Storms River and Clarkson on October 29.
“Extreme weather conditions hampered fire-suppression activities over this period.
“This was exacerbated by lightning fires on [Sunday] at Coldstream and Kareedouw.”
Dale Howarth, co-owner of Pumba Private Game Reserve outside Makhanda, said it also had a fire at the weekend which burnt about 1,000ha.
“It was a big monster that started on Friday.
“We lost about 5km of fencing, but otherwise it was just veld that burnt,” he said.
“The rain on Sunday night dampened the blaze.” Neighbouring reserves and farms helped to fight the fire.