Whether the Knysna Municipality’s slideshow on the causes of the Great Knysna Fire is true or not, the question remains: How should we deal with the Elandskraal Fire?
Elandskraal is part of Knysna, in between Sedgefield and Karatara. From here, a vicious wind flamed an attack on a vast portion of the town. Locals believe that a long-running smoulder was the origin whereas the Knysna Fire Department said pine cones and logs were evidence of man made fire. How it’s possible that they could determine the age of that ‘braai’ seems impossible but that is not the point of this blog.
From Elandskraal, destruction went through parts of Rheenendal and Karatara, before travelling in different directions that included Phantom Pass Belvidere, Lake Brenton, Brenton-on-Sea, Welbedacht, Simola/Blaricum Heights, Eastford, Kanonkop, Paradise and Knysna Heights. It’s from Elandskraal that death came for 2 mothers, one father and two toddlers.
Elandskraal was smouldering over two months before the Great Knysna Fire (up to the size of a rugby field). It continues to do so two months after, making residents fearful.
Knysna Municipality and Knysna Fire Chief Clint Manuel need to communicate better with the Public.
Uneducated to the nature of fire, it’s difficult for us to know what is true or false. This blog’s hope is that some readers, maybe even our government, will help us understand.
The Elandskraal smoulder is a difficult to access indigenous area of Knysna. A “smoulder” is a fire burning slowly with smoke but without flames, creeping ten times slower. Whereas a fully fledged flame burns at 1500C (or, in the case of the Great Knysna Fire, up to 2000C), a smoulder is approximately 600C. The situation in Elandskraal is made worse by the expectation that it’s underground too, a subsurface fire, possibly vast, existing through oxygen pockets in roots and decomposing biomass..
A smoulder releases flammable gas so if the wind blew it, for example, towards a braai, it could ignite. The alternative threat is that it eventually finds easier to burn trees (such as the alien pine plantations that dominate much of the Knysna landscape).
If the fire was alone in vast wilderness, radio stations would’ve appropriately played ‘Let it Be’ by The Beatles. Natural fire runs its course and, in some cases, to ensure new life. But this is the 21st century where us humans have planted ourselves in the middle of a 1,210 km2 forest now called the Garden Route National Park. Is letting fires be an option? And even if it worked without tragedy this time, would it work next time?
What’s true or false?
The safety of our firemen must be a prerogative so bush-cutting heroes isn’t an option ’cause the ground could collapse them into fire. Consequently, sending in the helicopters first seems logical. But will aerial water-bombing result in more oxygen begetting fire? Or will extensive water-bombing from many helicopters overcome that worry? Would our National Government bother to help supply those helicopters? Would their efforts allow heavy machinery to cut a road through the bush towards the fire where the smoulder must alternatively be dug up, risking open flame, whilst being simultaneously water-bombed. Are there fire retardant, non-nature destroying chemicals that can act as a precursor?
A massive, long-term plan for controlled burning seems reasonable requirement. Back burning is deliberate burning of a small area so as to stop the possible path of a wildfire. Considering the size of the fire on the West Head, it seems impossible that Brenton-on-Sea survived yet it did. Was the controlled burn in neighbouring Uitzicht, only two weeks before, their saviour? Similarly, should there be an increase in open spaces between pine plantations and human settlement?
What’s certain is that the fire safety awareness of us residents, who essentially live in a forest, was incredibly poor.
But back to Elandskraal, is there solution or must it be invented? Either we learn from the world or the learn learns from Knysna.
Consider the fright we experienced, some leaving town permanently. Keep in mind the challenges many of us still face. Would we want to face another disaster the same way? Or can we, together, the Public and our government, do better?
Dear reader, what are you thoughts?
Update: Afriforum’s investigation into the fire has been released. It contradicts the government’s version.