Knysna – Eleven aircraft battling fire flare ups in the Eden district were grounded on Saturday morning due to gale force winds, authorities said.
The aircraft have been grounded due to unsafe flying conditions, Western Cape local government spokesperson James-Brent Styan said in a statement.
“This will make the situation this afternoon very difficult,” Styan said.
Six helicopters from Working on Fire, one bomber fixed wing and three spotters from the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has been deployed to the scene. One Oryx aircraft from the SANDF has also been deployed and is making it’s way to the area.
The South African Weather service forecasted gale force winds between 60km/h to 70km/h on Saturday with gusts up to 90km/h. There is a 60% chance of rain in the area, the weather service said.
District disaster manager Gerhard Otto described the situation at Saturday 13:30 as “out of control” with flare-ups on all fire-lines. Flights from the George airport was grounded due to strong winds.
With 75% of buildings in Knysna assessed by local authorities, 408 formal and 200 informal structures have been confirmed damaged by runaway fires since Wednesday.
This number is set to increase once assessments has been completed later on Saturday afternoon, the Eden district municipality said in a statement on Saturday morning.
‘Biggest local deployment’
Twenty homes were destroyed in Plettenberg Bay, the Western Cape government said.
Knysna was formally declared a disaster zone during a special council sitting on Friday afternoon.
Between 500 to 800 fire-fighters have been deployed to battle fire flare ups in Sedgefield, Plettenberg Bay and Simola on Saturday morning, Working on Fire spokesperson Linton Rensburg said.
“This is certainly been one of the biggest local deployment ever of fire-fighting services for the working on fire programme,” Rensburg said.
Working on Fire carried out 277 water bombing since Wednesday.
Green fields in Plettenberg Bay, Buffalo Bay, Fairview, Gansvlei, White Location, Ruigtevlei, Concordia, Rheenendal and Joodsekamp were evacuated as a precautionary measure during the course of Saturday morning.
The N2 between George and Knysna was closed on Saturday due to heavy smog in the area.
Local authorities have requested the Provincial Disaster Management Centre to liaise with the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) and the department of home affairs to assist affected people with identity documents and Sassa cards.
The department of human settlements indicated that budget adjustments will be made to provide housing to affected communities, a statement by the Eden District Municipality reads.
Knysna municipality continued with relief efforts by providing plastic to residents of White Location to waterproof damaged homes.
Power disruptions have been reported in several areas in Knysna and George as electricity lines were damaged by strong winds and fires. Eskom contractors have been deployed, but due to the extent of damage, residents are requested to be patient.
Despite several reports of missing people, Southern Cape police reiterated that they have received no reports of missing people.
“The situation remains the same as yesterday [Friday] when no people were reported missing,” Southern Cape police spokesperson Malcolm Poije told News24 on Saturday morning.
He encouraged members of the public to report missing people can be reported to 044 302 6687 or 08600 10111.
Poije said ongoing reports of arson are unfounded and the cause of the fires is unknown.
George municipal spokesperson Chantel Edwards-Klose urged members of the public to verify information before reporting fires to authorities.
“There have been several cases this morning [Saturday] of fires and when fire brigade arrives they find nothing taking place,” she said.