UPDATE: Garden Route damage assessed as cause of fire investigated

2017-06-12 13:24 - Selene Brophy
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Cape Town - Mop-up operations have begun after the devastating fires in Knysna that claimed seven lives and has since displaced thousands. 

While arson has been raised a possible cause of the fire, an investigation into the devastation that has seen Knysna declared a disaster area continues. 

'Spontaneous combustion' 

SANparks states that while arson has not been ruled out, "scientists have suggested spontaneous combustion could be the cause behind the 300-km fire line".  

Nandi Mgwadlamba told Traveller24 that a theory around a "1:150 year cycle is being considered, since the Garden Route was once called the ‘Cape of Smoke' - with the cyclical theory being looked at, says  Mgwadlamba. 

As investigations continue, there is a nation-wide plea for aid for those affected by the fire. The Western Cape’s tourism sector has pulled together in an effort to accommodate displaced travellers affected by the fires, in which a total of 24 tourism establishments were damaged. See Traveller24's full story here

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

Firefighting conditions have since improved with the South African Weather Service forecasting a 30% chance of rain on Monday, 12 June over the southern to eastern coastal region of the Western Cape and part of the Eastern Cape. However, SANParks says its teams are also monitoring high seas in Tsitsikamma very closely. 

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

Call for volunteers to assist with mapping of damaged areas

SANParks says it is currently working with more than 1 016 volunteers, managed by the area's Provincial Joint Operating Committee, to put together a conclusive Geographical Information Systems map of the damage.

It says its Working on Fire teams (WoF) as well as rangers who have been assisting the town of Knysna are in the process of creating a "Geographical Information Systems map, indicating burnt infrastructure for the Incident Commander."

"This exercise will provide adequate information pertaining to the loss of infrastructure as a result of the devastating Knysna fires," says Planning Manager for the Garden Route National Park (GRNP), Len du Plessis.

"We are calling for volunteers to assist in the GIS assessment from Knysna to Rheenendal. They must be in good health, have own transport and own chainsaws." 

SEE: #KnysnaFires: What travellers need to know

Kranshoek picnic site burnt, Knysna forest unaffected

The Kranshoek picnic site and viewpoint have been affected by the fire and are unavailable to the public, although the temporary restaurant Cattle Baron is now open.  

Park Manager for the GRNP, Paddy Gordon has confirmed that the Knysna Forest has been unaffected.

"The fire in Hoekwil on Tuesday, 13 June, was very close to Ebb & Flow North but teams were out to extinguish the fire and it never did jump over to the Park." 

SANParks says as a precautionary measure, roads leading to Gouna and Diepwalle were closed due to the fire.

"Wild animals were thus not affected including special species such as the Midge (found in the Gouna River), the Knysna elephant, leopards, baboons and others were unaffected by the fire."  

SANParks says staff have since joined various animal welfare groups in Knysna to assist with stranded animals as a result of the fire. 

"On Monday an additional 300 WoF teams will be accommodated in Natures Valley, De Vasselot." 

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

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."

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.  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

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