Department of Environmental Affairs deploys more firefighting resources to Eastern and Southern Cape

31 October 2018

 

The Acting Minister of Environmental Affairs, Mr Derek Hanekom, has expressed condolences to the families of the 8 people that lost their lives during the wild fires in the Southern Cape. The fire had spread to SANParks land and a staff village of 11 houses was burned down. The staff and their families have been moved to camps in Wilderness.

During his visit to firefighters battling the fires in the Southern Cape, Minister Hanekom was able to visit fire hotspots.

“I would like to express my deepest condolences to the affected people and communities in and around George and Knysna for the loss of their loved ones, injuries and loss of property,” he said.

Multiple wild fires have engulfed parts of the Southern Cape, in particular in and around the coastal towns of George and Knysna, resulting in several communities having to evacuate their homes. Cautionary evacuations had taken place in the Herold fire that spread to George and, as of Wednesday morning, residents in Rheenendal in Knysna had also been evacuated.

“With the assistance of the police and local authorities, we are trying to persuade people to be evacuated as the risk is still very high. Firefighting efforts have been severely hampered by strong gusty winds and with the dry and hot temperatures at times. The fires could spread in any direction and we don’t want to lose further lives,” said Minister Hanekom.

Minister Hanekom also commended the Working on Fire (WoF) teams, local municipalities’ firefighters, farmers in the areas and PG Bisson for their tireless efforts on the frontline. “The people on the ground, the firefighters, are the real heroes. WoF and the local municipal firefighting brigades have done their utmost to bring the fire under control. As a nation we have to thank them for doing sterling work under difficult conditions. Some of them have lost their homes and lives during these fires,” said Minister Hanekom.

WoF has deployed more than 300 firefighters and management to provide ongoing firefighting support to the local and district municipalities in the Southern Cape. Deployed aerial resources consist of two Huey Helicopters, two fixed wing air tractor bombers and a spotter plane.

The Minister has reiterated the necessity of respecting the potential impact of fires on the wildland urban and commercial agriculture interface as a serious build-up of invasive alien plant invasions increases the risk of fire damage. 

“Very interestingly from above, it is clear that indigenous forests have not been at risk as alien invasive have been. This is a big fire risk that has to be part of our broader programme. As climate change takes hold with longer, hotter periods, the risk just intensifies. We need to reduce that risk,” said Minister Hanekom.

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