Aircraft assisting relief efforts in fire-ravaged Knysna region grounded due to gale force winds

Fires burn near Knysna, South Africa
Fires burn at Buffelsvermaak farm near Knysna, South Africa June 7, 2017. Strong winds fanned fires which destroyed houses and prompted the evacuation of thousands of residents. Image by: SIMONE TERBLANCHE / REUTERS
Aircraft assisting with rescue and relief efforts in the fire-ravaged Eden district along the Western Cape Garden Route‚ including Knysna‚ have had to be grounded due to gale-force winds.

James-Brent Styan‚ spokesman for Western Cape Local Government MEC Anton Bredell‚ said that conditions in the Eden district were “very difficult” at present with gale force winds having picked up since 11am on Saturday.

“Eleven aircraft have been working in the region including three SANDF Oryx helicopters with a fourth inbound. These assets have been working tirelessly during the morning but have now all been grounded till further notice due to the bad weather conditions making flying unsafe. This will make the situation this afternoon very difficult‚” he said.

He added that between 500 and 800 firefighters remained on duty in the region working in shifts.

“Residents near Buffels Bay Nature Reserve have been evacuated out of their houses onto the adjacent beach as a precautionary measure to allow fire-fighters to extinguish the fire in the area.

“In addition around 150 residents of Fairview and Gansvlei communities were evacuated during the night and early hours of the morning.”

In total‚ 408 formal and 200 informal structures had been completely destroyed in Knysna‚ with 20 private homes destroyed in Plettenberg Bay.

“Electricity and water supply remains a cause for concern in the Knysna area with the dam level at 31%‚” Styan said.

Humanitarian support in the region is being coordinated by Department of Social Development.

The confirmed number of fatalities in the Eden district remains at five. A firefighter who was injured on Friday is still in a serious coindition in a Plettenberg hospital.

Knysna hospital was damaged and is still closed. Styan said a technical team was trying to get into the hospital as soon as possible.

“The SANDF have set up a mobile unit to assist with medical support. There have been increased cases of people who have been affected by smoke inhalation. All maternity cases are going to Knysna Life Hospital.”

Styan said that conditions might improve from late Saturday afternoon and some light rain was forecast for the region for Sunday.

“The challenge remains the remainder of the day and all efforts will be undertaken to contain the fire line as far as possible‚” Styan added.

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