Knysna: This was the biggest disaster rescue operation in our history - Zille

WCape Premier says fires spanned at least 100 kilometres, and were bravely fought by a team of 1106 firefighters


On behalf of the Western Cape government and all residents, Premier Helen Zille extends our deepest gratitude to all who have responded to the calls for assistance in areas severely affected by the recent cape storm and raging fires along the garden route.

For much of last week, Knysna, and other surrounding areas have been engulfed in devastating fires that saw the evacuation of at least 10 000 residents, many of whom lost their homes and possessions.

This was – according to disaster management officials – the biggest disaster rescue operation in South African history. The fires spanned at least 100 kilometres, and were bravely fought by a team of 1106 firefighters from the province and elsewhere.

As it stands, all major life threatening fires have been successfully brought under control.

Sadly, the devastating events in the Eden District saw the loss of 7 lives, including a brave firefighter Bradley Richards who sustained severe burns (70%) and failed to recover from the incident.

“What we saw in the last week was an unprecedented natural disaster, that required an unprecedented response. Our efforts began with the proactive one day closure of all schools in the province on Wednesday, 7 June ahead of the Cape Storm. This freed up the roads to a large extent so that emergency services could operate without unnecessary hindrance.”

“Mop up operations are still continuing in the Southern Cape following the infernos that raged there for most of last week. I wish to commend every single organisation – public or private – NGO, family and individuals who stepped up to the challenge and came to the assistance of thousands in desperate situations,” said Premier Zille.

“Once again, South Africans have proven their resilience when faced with difficult situations. While we are saddened by the loss of life, we commend the brave efforts of the men and women who consistently show up for duty and put their lives on the line for our safety. Our responsibility is to stand with the communities of Knysna and surrounding areas to rebuild for the future,” Premier Zille said.

The Western Cape Government commends the work of the provincial Disaster Management team, led by Colin Deiner, and other partners including:

All firefighters, the Eden District Municipality, neighbouring municipalities, Eskom, Telkom, ACSA, Cape Nature, SanParks, Metrorail, the NSRI, Agri Western Cape and the Working-on-Fire Program. We also acknowledge the efforts of members of the Fire Protection Associations, Volunteer Wildfire Services and private contractor teams. Pilots from the South African Air Force and the private sector also contributed greatly, as did the South African Defence Force Joint Operations Centre, and the National Disaster Management Centre. We also extend our gratitude to NGOs including The Gift of the Givers, among numerous other organisations.

The Disaster Management team was also able to assist firefighting efforts in Nelson Mandela Bay once the Knysna fires were contained, by sending additional resources to that region.

On Wednesday 14 June 2017, the Western Cape cabinet will be convening in Knysna to begin a series of visits across the region to the most affected areas.

The oversight visits will give members of the cabinet, including the Premier, an opportunity to assess the extent of the damage. Government will continue to assist and facilitate the rebuilding process.

Humanitarian efforts will continue for as long as necessary.

Members of the public and other organisations wishing to donate can do so by contributing to the Knysna Municipality’s official Knysna Disaster Relief Fund:


Account Name: Emergency Fund

Account number: 1147920699

Reference: Knysnafire

International donations: NEDSZAJJ

Alternatively you can contact Mr Dawid Adonis, Community Services Director, in the Knysna Municipality on  044 302 6442 or 076 893 1727.

Meanwhile we remain mindful of other areas across the province affected by the storm which hit our shores last Tuesday night and persisted throughout the day on Wednesday 7 June.

The damage caused by the storm includes 144 schools which have been severely affected. The Western Cape Education Department is currently conducting a thorough assessment of what needs to be done. The majority of learners should not be affected, while mobile classrooms will be installed in areas where they are desperately needed.

We remain committed to working with anyone willing to assist in rebuilding the affected communities until they are restored to the vibrant and lively areas they were. We will not rest until this is done.

Statement issued by the Office of the Premier of the Western Cape, 12 June 2017