No foul play in Knysna fires - AfriForum

Western fire originated in Elandskraal area, resulted from a flare-up of an older smouldering fire caused by lightening strike

AfriForum, Dr David Klatzow announce origin of Knysna fires

22 August 2017

The civil rights organisation AfriForum today released a report that sets out the origin as well as the cause of the devastating Knysna fires. The report was drafted by the forensic scientist Dr David Klatzow, who was commissioned by AfriForum to undertake a thorough investigation of these fires in Knysna. The fires in Mossel Bay, Pezula and Plettenberg Bay are also discussed in the report.

Klatzow found among other things that one of the fires was caused by a fire that smouldered for a few weeks after lightning had struck a part of the indigenous forest.

AfriForum has already discussed the findings in the report with Ms Helen Zille, Premier of the Western Cape, at a meeting and furthermore wrote a letter to the Western Cape Government, asking for a commission of inquiry to look into the findings.

Ernst Roets, Deputy CEO of AfriForum, says that the organisation has an interest in this matter, as AfriForum plays a key role as a pressure group in civil society.

“It is important that the truth prevails and that justice is done,” Roets said.

Fires that are discussed in the report include:

1. The eastern fire in Knysna: Here it is indicated that a fire incidentally started in a forested area known as Dam-se-Bos. Arson is not suspected.

2. The western fire in Knysna: The fire originated in the Elandskraal area (see graphics attached) and was caused by lightning on 12 April 2017. The fire smouldered for a number of weeks in a portion of the indigenous forest, and weather conditions – including strong winds and hot air – fuelled this fire on 7 June 2017.

3.  The fires in the western part of the Knysna Lagoon which caused damage to Brenton-on-Sea and the area next to Buffels Bay, were a result of the Elandskraal fire.

4. The fires at Pezula were a result of the fires at Dam-se-Bos and Elandskraal. The Elandskraal fire jumped across the western part of the Knysna Lagoon to Pezula.

5. The Plettenberg Bay fires: The fires at Dam-se-Bos and Pezula spread to Plettenberg Bay. However, there were also two other fires in the area caused by a tree in a plantation. The tree fell on an Eskom power line and a fire started. Another fire was accidentally started by a resident in an informal settlement.

6. The Mossel Bay fires: These fires were started on purpose. The police refused to investigate the allegations of arson that were lodged with the local AfriForum branch.

- See the attached summary of the report below.

- Click on the link to download the full report.

Text of summary:


The investigation conducted by this author involved a number of fires extending from Mossel Bay to Plettenberg Bay on 7 June and subsequent days.

Grave concern existed countrywide and in the social media that these fires might have had some political agenda.

My investigations showed that an accidental fire started at Dam se Bos, east of Knysna. This fire spread southwards to involve the Pezula Estate, and went on through the wooded areas to reach Plettenberg Bay. The ferocity of this set of fires was exacerbated by the prolonged drought and the development of gale- force winds (which rendered the fire almost unstoppable).

The western suburbs of Knysna were engulfed in a second (unrelated) fire which crossed the estuary at about 07h30 on 7 June. This fire also burned along the Brenton Estate, Brenton-on-Sea and Brenton-on-Lake suburbs along the western shores of the estuary (the western fire). This fire split into two fires, one affecting greater Knysna, the other affecting the western side of the estuary.

These fires had their origin high in the forested area some 20 km to the north- west of Knysna. The ignition source of this fire was a well-documented lightning strike. This caused a localised smouldering combustion which was fanned to significant flaming combustion on the morning of 7 June. The climatic and wind conditions drove this fire into Knysna.

Of concern is the timely and repeated warnings given to the authorities regarding this fire. It appears that these warnings did not result in any action being taken. Prompt fire prevention methods such as water bombing and ground crews may very well have averted this western fire catastrophe.

The fires which occurred at Mossel Bay form a separate (?) being started deliberately, for reasons unknown to this author. The lack of police interest in this context is concerning. There was no sign of any of the fires to the north- east of Plettenberg Bay having been caused by deliberate human agency.

Significant maintenance of the wayleaves and servitudes over which high voltage transmission lines pass requires to be done. The planting of tall trees which can be uprooted onto power lines was observed.


Statement issued by Ernst Roets, Deputy CEO, AfriForum, 22 August 2017