#KnysnaFires: What travellers need to know

2017-06-12 09:04 - Selene Brophy
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Cape Town - Firefighting conditions across the Eden District remain favourable at this point, but this follows a devastating six days of fatal fires that has claimed seven lives, destroyed hundreds of homes and displaced thousands - see the latest update from News24 here.  

While more than 80% of the fires had been contained on Sunday 11 June, some rain relief has been predicted for Monday 12 June, as Knysna Municipality continues to appeal for donations of bottled water and essentials that victims of the storm desperately require - Weather Update: Rain relief for Garden Route, mild conditions across most of SA

Where are the fires still burning?

An estimated 1 106 firefighters have been on duty, with groups battling  blazes on Sunday to protect the village of Rheenendal and Wit Lokasie settlement, while Brenton-on-Sea was severely affected on Saturday.  

Initially strong winds impacted aircraft from waterbombing the affected areas, but conditions have since improved.  

The Eden District Municipality confirmed all fires are contained at the North side of Sedgefield - Barrington, Karatara and Elandskraal as well as in the North side of Knysna (Wit Lokasie, Concordia and Nekkies. 

Disaster zone, arrangements for displaced tourists

The damage done to the Garden Route is being labelled a disaster zone, and there is a nation-wide plea to continue to provide aid.  The Western Cape’s tourism sector has pulled together in an effort to accommodate displaced travellers affected by the fires in the Garden Route, in which a total of 24 tourism establishments were damaged. See Traveller24's full story here.    

Airbnb disaster response, assistance until 30 June

Tourists who have been displaced are being accommodated in larger hotels and in surrounding towns. Airbnb has also come on saying it would provide free accommodation to those in need. 

Airbnb has activated a disaster response tool to aid travellers and temporarily displaced locals impacted by the Western Cape flooding and wildfires.  "

The online booking platform says it is Local Airbnb hosts are opening their homes free of charge.

"We are helping connect travellers and temporarily displaced locals who have been impacted by the events in the Western Cape with Airbnb hosts nearby from now through June 30."

Emergency contact numbers:

- Knysna Ops Centre for medical emergencies, passports and repatriation - +27 1000 70230.
- For assistance or emergency accommodation, please call the following numbers:

Ilze Jacobs, Tourism Safety and Support Unit: 082 972 2507
Ops Centre at Pelican Lodge: 044 343 3283
Sedgefield Tourism: 044 343 2007

Immediate priority to provide for the homeless and destitute

Minister of Tourism Tokozile Xasa also offered her condolences to the families and friends of the people who died in the fires and storms that have hit Cape Town and Knysna in the Western Cape, and thanked the tourism industry for responding swiftly to the needs of those who were affected by the disaster. 

Minister Xasa says the immediate priority was to provide for the homeless and destitute, to restore essential services to the area, and to ensure that tourists are safe and accommodated.

“Once the situation has been stabilised and these urgent priorities have been addressed, we will need to assess the full impact on tourism facilities and attractions in the region, as tourism is a key contributor to our economy.

Alan Winde, Minister of Economic Opportunities says “Knysna Tourism visited all affected accommodation establishments, and found that 24 had either been partially or completely destroyed. The Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa) has been fully briefed on the damage. The JAMMS is assisting to coordinate response plans.”

“South African Tourism is also working with Satsa to find alternative accommodation for tourists who have booked and will be arriving soon. FEDHASA’s Cape Town members have also offered assistance in accommodating tourists.”

Minister Winde says an Operations Centre had been set up at the Pelican Lodge in Sedgefield to assist tourists.

While the full extent of the damage is being assessed, thus far affected properties include:

Phantom Forest Lodge
Bradach Manor
The Big Tree House Lodge
Bridgewater Manor
Four on Faure
Coral Tree Cottages
Knysna Hollow
Cliff Lodge in Plettenberg Bay

Oyster Festival to go ahead

Knysna Tourism has confirmed that the 2017 Knysna Oyster Festival and its various sporting events will be going ahead as planned in July, as the damage is being assessed. SANParks has also confirmed the national park has been largely unaffected and the Otter Trail remains intact. Here's why the five-day hike that usually has a year-long waiting list is worth the wait.

But there are a host of other experiences to plan around. And you cannot get more authentic than checking out the inland explorer's Garden Route - including highlights of SwellendamGrootvadersboch and Oudtshoorn, extending towards the longest wine route in the world  Route62, while you're at it. 

Planning a Garden Route escape cannot be more valuable right now - as the affected towns will need tourism income generation, once back on its feet, more than ever. 

What to read next on Traveller24:

#KnysnaFire: Oyster Fest, Cycle Tour and Marathon going ahead, damage to be assessed

UPDATE: Knysna in dire need of water, wind could reignite fire

Weather Update: Rain relief for Garden Route, mild conditions across most of SA