NEWS

Knysna To Begin Rebuilding After At Least 500 Homes Destroyed

Knysna Municipality says fires that destroyed homes and resulted in multiple deaths are now contained and the town is "open for business".

12/06/2017 12:20 SAST | Updated 12/06/2017 12:22 SAST

Devastating fires that have claimed seven lives and destroyed hundreds of homes in Knysna are now contained as the Western Cape town moves to begin rebuilding.

The Knysna Municipality on Sunday evening said the fires that have "held Greater Knysna hostage for the past six days" have all been contained. Mayor Eleanore Bouw-Spies on Sunday said the town is "extremely grateful to have a total of 1,106 firefighters and logistic personnel assisting with this operation".

Hundreds of homes destroyed

Between 500 and 600 homes have been destroyed over the past week including 30 tourism establishments, Minister of Economic Opportunities Alan Winde told eNCA on Monday.

"Many people have lost their jobs because of this devastation," he said. "Approximately 300 to 400 beds in the tourism industry have been lost but there are still 4,000 beds available in Knysna," he said. "That's the lifeblood of this town".

'Knysna is open for business'

Despite extensive damage mainly to residential areas of the town, the municipality on Sunday said Knysna remains "open for business with more tourist establishments escaping the horror than those destroyed."

Provincial government on Monday will meet with Knysna's mayoral committee to discuss details concerning plans for reconstruction.

Knysna resident Candy Logan told HuffPost SA distribution points in the town are closed Monday as people regroup and strategise about the way forward.

"Everybody is getting on with their day. It's back to work as usual," she said.

"We have so many food and clothing trucks coming through, but most of the people who lost their homes are in fact wealthy enough to manage on their own. They have got additional places to stay."

"Unfortunately, however, some people in town are pretending their house was burnt down to claim free items, so now people have to register their houses [as burnt down] before they can claim," she said.

Allegations of arson 'fake news'

The South African Police Service's (Saps) Southern Cape Office on Saturday rubbished claims circulating on social media that fires were a result of arson.

A voicenote circulating on Whatsapp claimed two people with petrol cans had been arrested in connection with the fires in George and surroundings. The same voicenote, according to Saps, alleged involvement of two suspects behind fires from Knysna through to Port Elizabeth.

Rumours of a delivery tracks with "humanitarian relief packages" being hijacked were also untrue, Saps said.

Saps lambasted the spread of "fake news" about the fires, saying it creates "further havoc and chaos in a situation where resources are already stretched to their limits".

Spokesperson for the Minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, James-Brent Styan, told HuffPost SA the "message from Saps remains unchanged".

"All of these allegations are unfounded," he said.

Forensic investigator David Klatzow last week said simultaneous fires "raise a big red flag" and suggests "deliberate agency", according to Business Live.

Western Cape Premier Helen Zille also suggested foul play on Monday in a Daily Maverick opinion piece.

"A forensic scientist is now investigating how it came to pass that, in a howling 75 km gale, with gusts up to 150 kms per hour, fires started on different sides of a small town, surrounded by indigenous forests and huge forestry plantations, where the undergrowth was unusually dry because of the drought. I have learnt to await the result of such investigations before making further comment," she wrote.