We've got news for you.

Register on TimesLIVE at no cost to receive newsletters, read exclusive articles & more.
Register now

Garden Route residents evacuated as fires rage out of control

04 November 2018 - 13:20 By Graeme Hosken And Timeslive
A trail of destruction was left by the wildfires that spread across the Garden Route at the end of October 2018.
A trail of destruction was left by the wildfires that spread across the Garden Route at the end of October 2018.
Image: Garden Route District Municipality

Hundreds of people have been evacuated along the Garden Route as one of the country's biggest wildfires rages on‚ leaving a scar four times the size of the blaze that tore across Knysna in 2017.

Fires raging on the N2 near Witelsbos forced traffic authorities to close the freeway at Trivolia bridge as a precautionary measure earlier on Sunday.

The Joint Operations Centre (JOC) at Garden Route District Municipality issued an update on several of the fires on Sunday afternoon:

  • Mossel Bay/Herbertsdale wildfire: Active fire lines‚ especially on the western flank. Firefighters are actively battling these blazes. Mopping-up operations are under way in other parts of the area. No infrastructure is in danger.
  • Jonkersberg wildfire: SANDF Oryx and a Working on Fire Huey dropped water on the western flank. Cooler weather conditions are making firefighting operations easier at the moment. Mopping-up operations continue at other flanks. No infrastructure in danger.
  • Outeniqua/De Vlugt wildfire: Over 86‚000ha have burned. The current scar is four times the size of the 2017 Knysna/Bitou fires (22‚000ha). Currently crews are attending to high-priority flare-ups at all divisions through suppression actions‚ with a focus on critical areas being Jonkersberg‚ Noll‚ Kransbos‚ Diepwalle and Seven Passes. Mopping-up operations will be taking place throughout the day.
  • George firefighting crews managed to safeguard the Highlands Lodge from danger.

Wildfires that did not pose immediate danger were also burning at Karatara‚ the George urban edge‚ Hoekwil‚ Ruigtevlei‚ Herold‚ Campherskloof‚ Ezeljacht and Ganskraal.

Gerard Otto‚ head of disaster management at the Garden Route District Municipality‚ said on Saturday that 252 residents‚ including six babies‚ had been evacuated from towns in the fire's path as a precaution.

"Those who have been evacuated are from towns in the Goudveld area as well as from Jonkersberg and Buffelsnek."

Otto said dense smoke‚ which had reduced visibility‚ had at the time made it impossible to fight the fire from the air.

"This is by far the country's biggest fire in a populated area to have occurred. We have more than 85‚000ha that are burning. In last year's Knysna fires‚ which were four times smaller than this fire‚ 22‚000ha were destroyed."

He said the fire was at least 35km wide and had a front of more than 180km.

"It is a truly massive fire."

Plumes of thick smoke rising from several fires‚ which have been burning for days‚ could be seen from space.

The Joint Operations Centre (JOC) at Garden Route District Municipality said in an update on Sunday that firefighters had worked tirelessly throughout the night.

“Last night the wind died down‚ but this morning the situation changed again …. Additional resources have arrived and are deployed to the high-risk areas.”

The Outeniqua pass was expected to remain open but the Prince Alfred pass between Uniondale and Knysna was closed as a precautionary measure. The fires have seen entire communities being evacuated from their homes.

About 150 people from Diepwalle were being evacuated on Sunday by SANParks as a precautionary measure. Jonkersberg community members (136) who were evacuated earlier were returning home on Sunday.

Goudveld residents (42) were being looked after at the Rheenendal community hall and 74 people from Buffelsnek had been relocated to Wittedrift.

Two wildfires‚ about 4km apart in Jonkersberg and Outeniqua‚ were expected to meet up on Sunday. “One house is in danger on a koppie in this area. Unfortunately‚ this home has no defendable space around it and is surrounded by dense vegetation‚” said the JOC.

“On the northern side‚ the wildfire caused the powerline which feeds electricity to Oudtshoorn to trip. Assessments are currently being done by Eskom on this line.”

Several back burns had been created to contain fires in various parts of the southern Cape. In addition to an army of firefighters deployed on the ground‚ aircraft and helicopters from Working on Fire and the SANDF are being used to contain the fires.