RECOVERING: Thousands of people were affected and hundreds of homes destroyed as fires swept through Knysna and Plettenberg Bay recently. Picture: David Ritchie
The saying “rising like a phoenix from the ashes” has rarely rung as true as it does along the Garden Route after what has been dubbed the biggest disaster rescue effort in South African history.

A large number of devastating fires - which were mainly focused around Knysna and Plettenberg Bay - swept through the region over the past three weeks, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.

The fires saw about 5000 residents flee their homes, led to the destruction of about 700 homes and other structures, claimed the lives of seven locals, and burnt through more than 20 000ha of land.

Over and above the physical losses, the town’s economy has taken a knock, with about 2 500 jobs - mostly in the hospitality industry - having been affected.

Knysna’s acting municipal manager, Johnny Douglas, said this week about 90 businesses had been affected, largely in the accommodation sector, with 33% having been completely destroyed and 38% of them not covered by insurance.

While both towns - which have been declared disaster areas - are still counting the cost, plans are however already taking shape to rebuild the areas “stronger than before”.

“Knysna will rise, and we will rise stronger than ever before,” said Knysna mayor, Eleanore Bouw-Spies.

So much so that Knysna now boasts its own phoenix rising logo, which went viral this week. The #KnysnaRises logo shows the Knysna Loerie, rising like a phoenix.

Western Cape MEC for Economic Opportunities Alan Winde said homes and businesses would have to be rebuilt and “there will be a boost to the construction industry, due to the need for about 600 homes”.

Bouw-Spies highlighted the dangers of the town’s existing road system. “Knysna was closed in all directions due to the ferocious fires. The replacement and upgrading of existing infrastructure will receive priority attention,” she added. 

Garden Route Media