Skukuza – Fifteen of the 19 people killed in Tuesday night’sveld fire in the Kruger National Park could have survived if they had remainedin their camp instead of fleeing, officials said on Wednesday.
“It appears that those who died tried to run from the fire, but the flamescaught up with them. The wind was much faster than human legs can go,”parks director David Mabunda told reporters in Skukuza. People who stayedput were unharmed. The 15 were members of neighbouring communities contracted tocut grass. Eleven people were initially injured but one, a field ranger, laterdied in the Nelspruit Clinic in Mpumalanga. The other three victims were alsofield rangers who had been brought in to fight the flames.
‘We had enough people fighting the fire and did everything by the book’
SA National Parks (SANParks) boardchair Mavuso Msimang said the fire started on Tuesday evening when windyconditions made it difficult to contain the flames. The blaze raged betweenPretoriuskop and Skukuza. The 15 contractworkers were staying in a camp at the edge of the area destroyed by the fire,Mabunda said. “It is difficult to re-enactwhat happened, but it appears that the people were scared and terrified whenthey saw the flames coming towards them. That is probably why they ran.” The 15 died from suffocation and burn wounds and somewere burnt beyond recognition. A number ofanimals, including four elephants, were also killed, in the blaze whichdestroyed 70 000 hectares of vegetation. The Napi Trail camp was burnt to the ground, includingtents containing the property of eight tourists who were evacuated unharmed.Mabunda said officials had done everything possible tocontain the fire. “Even if we were to callupon all the municipal fire fighters available in Mpumalanga and the NorthernProvince, we would not have succeeded in dousing the flames,” he said.”That was the magnitude of the fire. “Twofire engines and an aircraft were deployed to assist, as well soldiers from anearby military base. “We had enoughpeople fighting the fire and did everything by the book,” Mabunda said.By Wednesday afternoon, the fire was still burning butwas under control. SANParks has initiated aninquiry into the blaze, while the department of labour said it would conduct aseparate investigation. “It is importantfor all the circumstances around this fire to be evaluated so that we can besatisfied that the measures we have in place are adequate,” Msimang said.The police and park authorities were still tracing thenext-of-kin of the dead, most of whom were from nearby Makoko village. Relatives should either visit the Hazyview mortuary foridentification or contact 083-925-8679 or 082-808-7432 for more information.A disaster relief fund to assist the families of thosekilled has been set up. SANParks and the department of environmental affairs andtourism have each donated R100 000. The bank details for the fund are: KNP Fire DisasterFund, Absa current account number 4054043666. PresidentThabo Mbeki was among those to convey his condolences to the families of thedead on Wednesday. “Our hearts go out tothose who have lost their loved ones. South Africa salutes the bravery of thosewho died in the blaze whilst attempting to rescue those trapped by thefire,” his office said in a statement. EnvironmentalAffairs and Tourism Minister Valli Moosa expressed his shock and sadness andcalled on all South Africans and “friends of the Kruger here andabroad” to contribute to the fund. Meanwhile,Provincial and Local Government Minister Sydney Mufamadi, who visited Skukuza tobe briefed on the situation, told reports that government would provide supportto the victims’ families. “We are quiteimpressed by the prompt response of SA National Parks, notwithstanding the factthat there were so many casualties,” Mufamadi said. MWU-Solidarity, one of the two labour unions at the KNP,also conveyed its condolences but said the blaze could have been prevented.Spokesperson Dirk Hermann said rangers warned lastyear that the fire breaks needed to be cleaned up. “The park, however, decided to retrench theserangers which resulted in a lack of expertise in fire-fighting.” -Sapa