South Africa — FIREFIGHTERS, with a little help from light showers overnight on Wednesday, had by yesterday morning either extinguished or controlled most of the fires plaguing the Garden Route.
While mopping-up operations got under way in some places, in others firemen were kept on the line to monitor the flames.
Eden Disaster Management head Gerhard Otto said two teams spent the day monitoring huge fires in the inaccessible mountains at Homtini Plaat and Formosa Peak/Keurbooms.
There is still open flame at Homtini Plaat but the fire is moving towards a section of land that has already burnt, so it should burn itself out.
The guys in the air tell me theres a fire line 100km across in the mountains at Keurbooms, but its all old grass and were keeping a close watch.
Otto said the fires at Fisanthoek outside Plettenberg Bay, Noll, north of Homtini, Haarlem and Still Bay had been completely extinguished and fire teams had been withdrawn.
We still have 123 firemen on the line in Phantom Pass to monitor the fire, although it is under control.
SANParks spokesman Zanemvula Gozongo said they were closely monitoring the fire in the Langkloof, which was still inaccessible.
He said the hot conditions expected today could cause fires to flare up again in the Dubbelberg/Millwood North areas, on the far side of the Outeniqua Mountains.
Plans are being implemented to (water) bomb the area tonight and fire-fighting teams have been deployed to the fire lines, he said late yesterday afternoon.
Working on Fire (WoF) national dispatch co-ordinator Michelle Kleinhans said their helicopters and spotter planes were grounded yesterday but remained on standby. A helicopter did, however, do a reconnaissance flight over the Haarlem area. The fire at Homtini is still out of control but is burning in mountain fynbos and poses no threat to life and property.
She said the 179 veld and forest fire-fighters from KwaZulu Natal and the Free States Working on Fire groups would remain in the Southern Cape until after the weekend.
Eden fire chief Annelize Lamprecht-Vertue said the joint operations centre would also remain active in George during the mopping- up operation.
Otto said they would meet this morning to discuss executing a controlled burn which would safeguard the massive George catchment area from runaway fires.
Otto said about 6000 hectares had been razed but miraculously no homes or human lives had been lost.
While fruit farmers in Haarlem lost apple orchards, sheds and equipment, other land owners have damage to fences and outbuildings. Telkom has employed contractors to rip out hundreds of metres of damaged phone cables and electricity lines.
Gozongo said damage to fauna and flora could not yet be assessed.
Knysna municipal manager Johnny Douglas said about 900ha of grassland and fynbos had been destroyed in the Phantom forest area. Although the fire has been brought under control, the area will only be declared safe after 24 hours without any flare-ups.
Arson investigation results were being awaited.
Otto said if private landowners had maintained their firebreaks and cleared alien vegetation timeously, the threat to their properties could have been minimised. He encouraged rural landowners to join their local Fire Protection Agency.
Knysna Community Services director Charl Botha said it was the responsibility of landowners to maintain their firebreaks and clear their alien vegetation. They could get a rebate from the municipality for doing so.
Knysna Mayor Eleanore Bouw-Spies yesterday had praise and thanks for her residents and municipal employees, all of whom pulled together to battle the blaze and donate food and drinks for the firefighters.