A firefighter battles a fire at Springvale farm in Robberg Road in Plettenberg Bay. Pictures by: David Ritchie/ANA Pictures
Knysna – Gale-force winds wreaked havoc along the already fire-ravaged Garden Route on Saturday causing massive flare-ups and new fires which led to another round of large scale evacuations, road closures and destruction.

By Saturday night the death toll had risen to six people with the death of 63-year-old John Blaauw in Concordia near Knysna.

Police spokesman, Captain Malcolm Pojie said the incident occurred shortly after 3pm, when Blaauw who was driving a vehicle transporting workers near Windheuwel, when they were trapped by raging fires.

“In an attempt to flee the fire, he got engulfed in it and subsequently died due to extensive degree of burning wounds sustained,” said Pojie.

He added that an inquest docket has been registered for investigation.

Spokesman for the Department of Local Government James-Brent Styan said an additional five people had also been evacuated to hospital with serious injuries.

Working on Fire spokesman Lauren Howard said that before the flare-ups more than 10 000 hectares had already burnt in the region.

Most of the fires in the region – which started raging out of control by Wednesday – had just been contained on Friday when winds – gusting at more than 90km/h – swept through the area on Saturday morning. The windy conditions persisted for most the day.

In Knysna – which had already seen more than 3 000 people evacuated and more than 400 homes destroyed by Friday – the N2 between Buffels Bay and Sedgefield had to be closed early on Saturday morning as a fire swept through the area but was reopened towards the evening.

Earlier in the day residents in the Buffalo Bay, Buffelskop and the Brenton area were also evacuated as a precautionary measure and taken to the Buffels Bay Town Hall. By 6pm on Satirday residents of Ruigtevlei, Concordia and Wit Lokasie were also evacuated.

On Friday night about 150 Fairview residents were also evacuated to the Sedgefield Hall while firefighters tended to a fire in the area.

Knysna municipal spokesman Fran Kirsten said Knysna townships Flenters, Rhobololo, Greenfields and Joodsekamp were also evacuated as runaway fires threatened the communities. The number of residents who fled their homes in these areas had not been established by last night.

Eden disaster management head Gerhard Otto said by 1.30pm all fire lines had flared up again and were all burning out of control. Firefighters have been battling since Wednesday to tend to about 26 different fires.

In Plettenberg Bay the weather conditions also led to major flare-ups and new fires. Large parts of the coastal holiday town had been destroyed by a fire which ripped through the town’s Kranshoek and Whale Rock areas. About 1 000 residents had to be evacuated in Plett.

The flare-ups on Saturday occurred along the town’s Airport Road, where the road was closed for most of the day. Residents in the area were also ordered to evacuate and by 3pm the town’s airport had completely disappeared under smoke.

A new fire started at the Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary towards the Crags outside Plettenberg at about 1pm. This was however brought under control about an hour later.

Bitou municipal spokesman Howard Swartz said another fire that had been burning out of control was around the Jakkalskraal, also near the airport.

He added that a fire had also broken out in the Green Valley community, but Swartz said that residents there were not in immediate danger.

Further afield in George, Otto said a fire had broken near the George Airport, the southern Cape's main airport, and Maalgate area. Communities in the area were also evacuated.

Airport Company South African’s regional spokeswoman, Senzeni Ndebele said the airport was not directed affected by the fire but experienced some slight disruptions due to strong winds.

“A Kulula flight from Johannesburg couldn’t land and had to be diverted to Cape Town while a FlySafair aircraft managed to land but the passengers were aircraft-bound for 45 minutes because the wind was too strong, we couldn’t get equipment out to assist them disembark but a Mango flight that followed landed without incident.

“The airport closed at 3pm with all the flights having landed, with a breechcraft carrying 15 fire-fighters who are coming from Johannesburg coming to assist with the fires.

“We will be monitoring the situation and liaising with the Weather Serves on the situation and talking to airlines in preparation for [today] when we open.”

The airport’s manager, Brenda Voster said there was a fire nearby but that it was contained.

“It was not on the premises but one could see smoke which was headed towards the direction of the airport but it was attended to.”

Styan said eleven aircraft had been working in the region including three SANDF Oryx helicopters and four Working on Fire helicopters.

Otto said in terms of gauging the damage, about 75 percent of the assessment had been done which revealed that 408 houses and about 200 informal structures had been destroyed. A further 30 homes were gutted in neighbouring Plettenberg Bay.

Fires were also raging in neighbouring Port Elizabeth last night where the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality’s spokesman, Mthubanzi Mniki said they had to close off the N2 near the van Staden Gorge area for a few hours due to a fire that had broken out. The road re-opened shortly before 8pm.

By Saturday night, Mniki said firemen were still working on the blaze and urged members of the public not to go to the affected areas.

Woodridge College nearby had also been evacuated earlier in the day, with 50 percent of the buildings having burnt down, including the hostels, school church, junior classroom and some teacher residences.

Mniki said fires in the area had also affected electricity distribution to some of the municipality’s water pump stations, he urged residents to drastically decrease their water usage.

Weekend Argus and Garden Route Media

The people and animals of Knysna still need assistance desperately.

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Knysna Fire – 7 June 2017

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