KNYSNA NEWS - With this week signalling two years since the devastating Knysna fires, civil rights group AfriForum has once again called for action after several investigations into the origin and cause of the blaze have yielded no further steps. This is despite at least two reports outright contradicting a report by the municipality's former fire chief Clinton Manuel on the origin of the fires.
Initially Manuel compiled a report following an investigation into the origin and cause of the fires, in which he indicated that human activity caused the devastating fires that claimed the lives of seven people and left many homeless.
His findings were based on pine cones – often used as kindling – and charred logs that were found on private land in the mountainous Elandskraal area where the fire started.
Call for Zille to investigate
After the fires, AfriForum obtained permission from former Western Cape premier Helen Zille to launch an independent investigation and subsequently appointed forensic scientist Dr David Klatzow to look into the fires, especially the Elandskraal fire.
Contrary to Manuel's report, Klatzow found that the Elandskraal fire, which generated the majority of the destruction, was caused by lightning several weeks earlier. He found that the fire had smouldered for a number of weeks in a portion of the indigenous forest, and weather conditions – including strong winds and hot air – fuelled this fire on 7 June 2017. The smouldering was reported to authorities, but as far as is known, no action was taken.
Damning CSIR report
This glaring difference between the reports led to an investigation by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which also refuted the Manuel report. The CSIR findings revealed that extensive corroborating scientific evidence pointed to the existence and spread of a smouldering fire (probably underground) that was most likely caused by a lightning strike that occurred on 22 March 2017 in the Elandskraal area. On 7 June, the smouldering was aggravated by the hot berg winds on the day.
AfriForum representative Reint Dykema said following the release of these reports the organisation requested to Zille that a commission be launched to look into the different reports, but that the provincial government however decided to approach Vulcan Wildfire Management to investigate the fires and its findings aligned with that of Klatzow and the CSIR versions.
Call for municipality to investigate
Dykema said when these reports were released, they asked the municipality to not only distance itself from the Manuel report but to also launch an internal investigation as to why local fire services "ignored the smouldering Elandskraal fire".
"Knysna Municipality did not give much attention to this request," Dykema said.
He added that on this the second anniversary of the fires, he is repeating the request. "AfriForum will welcome it if Knysna Municipality officially distances itself from the Clinton Manuel report, with specific reference to the incorrect indication about the place and cause of the Elandskraal fire.
"We trust that the municipality will launch an internal investigation into why the Knysna and Sedgefield fire department chose to ignore the smouldering Elandskraal fire," Dykema said this week.
The municipality was repeatedly contacted to find out whether these findings would be investigated or if any action had been taken, but no response was forthcoming before going to print.
Both AfriForum and the Cape Town municipality confirmed this week that Manuel is employed by the Cape Town municipality. In response to the question why, given the accusations against him, Manuel had been employed there, the municipality said it would first wish to review all the fire reports before responding to the query.
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