The tragic tale of Knysna

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

The devastating fires that ripped through one of South Africa’s most popular holiday towns left a trail of destruction that will take years to repair.

It became abundantly clear on Wednesday 7 June that the picturesque coastal town of Knysna was in deep trouble. Raging fires surrounded the town and calls from residents to emergency services were becoming more and more desperate. Firefighters, hampered by a lack of water, high winds and the sheer scale of the blaze, were losing the battle. As the flames moved closer to the town, the sense of urgency increased and the evacuation of those whose homes were directly in the fire’s path began.

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Some suburbs were completely cut off and the only way to escape the flames was by sea. The NSRI and other volunteers stepped in and evacuated frightened residents by boat across the storm swept estuary. Some were moved to areas that soon also became unsafe and were forced to again move on and find shelter elsewhere.

When the flames died down the extent of the catastrophe became apparent. Social media was awash with photographs of the devastation and stories of bravery and loss made for heart-breaking reading. Tragically seven people, including an eight-month pregnant woman, lost their lives while scores of others escaped with only the clothes on their backs.

Reports vary, but Knysna resident, Scott Picken says that well over 400 formal and more than 200 informal homes were destroyed by the blaze. While it's difficult to gauge the value of the affected informal dwellings, the monetary loss of homes in the formal sector (calculated on an average price of between R1-million and R1.5-million), is around R6-billion. There is, of course, more to life than bricks and mortar and it would be virtually impossible to put a price on the personal losses suffered by those affected by the inferno.

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Relief efforts have been nothing short of phenomenal and everything from energy drinks for the firefighters to clothing, blankets and much-needed food has been flown in from all over the country.

“Although my property wasn’t affected, many friends lost everything,” says Picken. “To put it into some kind of perspective, no fewer than 30 properties owned by parents in my son’s school were consumed in the blaze.”

Deeply touched by the extent of the devastation, Picken has initiated a global crowdfunding drive in order to help those who need it the most. “My biggest concern is that while donations will undoubtedly bring relief in the short term, this won't be enough to help people rebuild their lives. Many of the town’s residents live on very limited means and in many instances carried no insurance on their homes. The fact that these people have lost everything and have no way of replacing even the most basics is of grave concern.

"Knysna has always prided itself on its community spirit, but the support shown to those who have been affected has been unbelievable. The townsfolk stood side by side desperately trying to keep the flames at bay and after it became apparent there was nothing more to be done to save the properties, opened up their own homes to affected families and donated supplies and their time to various relief organisations. Unfortunately this isn't going to be enough, but even though it’s early days we have had a good response to the crowdfunding drive, which is encouraging.

“We have raised over R273 000 and I am aware of over 36 campaigns on multiple sites around the world,” says Picken. On BackaBuddy they have raised over R1,5 million for Knysna. The best part is this money will go directly to those who need it most and not be diluted, through the old traditional channels. It will have a tangible benefit and the feedback loop so people can witness the benefit of their generosity.

“Even if people can’t support financially I do ask them to spread the word and share it with their own networks. At the end of the day we can use technology and the power of the crowd as a force for good. The bottom line is that crowdfunding can be used to solve grand challenge.”

Mother Nature has shown what can happen when she unleashes her mighty force and while there was nothing to be done when flames raged through one of South Africa's most popular seaside towns, there is much that can be done to help those in need. Now that much of the media attention has died down, let's not forget those people and animals in desperate need. Now is the time to open our hearts and pockets and donate whatever we can. Lives will go on and the town will be rebuilt, but it will take time and a great deal of money to restore Knysna to her former glory.

Mother Nature has shown what can happen when she unleashes her mighty force and while there was nothing to be done when flames raged through one of South Africa's most popular seaside towns, there is much that can be done to help those in need. Now that much of the media attention has died down, let's not forget those people and animals in desperate need. Now is the time to open our hearts and pockets and donate whatever we can. Lives will go on and the town will be rebuilt, but it will take time and a great deal of money to restore Knysna to her former glory.

For further information regarding the crowdfunding initiative go to: https://www.backabuddy.co.za/champion/project/help-for-knysna

A cinematic look back at the town before the devastating fires:

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Knysna
Garden Route Bliss
Nestled between the Knysna estuary, the Indian Ocean and a vast indigenous forest, this town is full of natural beauty. With three magnificent golf courses, it is a haven for golfers. The waterfront is a popular tourist destination for great food and shopping. Known for its oysters, this town has festivals and events for all kinds of interests. An ideal holiday destination or retirement place, experience tranquility and a safe, small-town life.