Situational Analysis of the 2017 Knysna Fires

The Challenge

On 7 June 2017, the Kruisfontein and Elandskraal wildfires (collectively referred to as the Knysna Fires) had a devastating impact on the Knysna and Plettenberg Bay areas. The scale and destructive nature of these wildfires was almost inconceivable and the Knysna Fires incident will be recorded as one of the most destructive wildfire incidents in South Africa’s history. Vulcan Wildfire Management (Pty) Ltd was appointed by the Western Cape Directorate Disaster Management and Fire & Rescue Services to launch a task force to analyse and document the Knysna Fires and, thereafter, produce a comprehensive report with a summary of findings and recommendations. This analysis sought input from a representative sample of people within the Eden District who were either affected by or involved with the Knysna Fires. They represent a sample of the same communities and organisations who are going to be the key users of the future systems that will improve wildfire resilience. It was therefore imperative to give them a voice and to consider their experiences.

The Solution

Synergy “The combined power of a group of things when they are working together that is greater than the total power achieved by each working separately: Teamwork at its best results in a synergy that can be very productive.” Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus (2018).

There are different philosophies and approaches to the wildfire problem amongst the role-players in the Eden District. The focus going forward must not be on the differences but rather on shared common objectives which can bring the role-players together. The Vulcan report cannot ensure synergy but it aims to initiate the journey toward shared wildfire responsibility. By enhancing collaboration, planning, preparation and the response for wildfire risks, the Eden District can become truly wildfire resilient.

No single agency can successfully prepare and defend against the challenge of wildfires or be effective in safeguarding people, homes, businesses, infrastructure and the natural environment. The only successful strategy incorporates shared responsibility and synergy.
— Vulcan Wildfire Management.

 

"The goal is for relationships, systems and strategies to be adopted and improved in order to positively change the outcome of future wildfire incidents"

Vulcan Wildfire Management  

“When you make a mistake, there are only three things you should ever do about it. Admit it, learn from it, and don’t repeat it.”

Paul “Bear” Bryant, legendary American Football coach, n.d.  

%

Chance of Disaster Happening Again if No Strategic Action is Taken

Number of Homes Destroyed or Damaged

Lives Lost

Months Dedicated to Producing Vulcan Report

Fatalities

The loss of any life in a wildfire incident is significant. The Elandskraal and Kruisfontein wildfires in June 2017 resulted in both public and firefighter fatalities. This is the most severe consequence of wildfires. The scale and destruction of the incident, but especially the fatalities, leaves an imprint that will last for generations on an entire community.

The Wildland Urban Interface

The Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) is an area where urban homes are situated close to or in the veld, forests and mountains – which are prone to burning. The WUI extends well beyond the perceived urban edge. There are three ways that fire spreads in the WUI;
1. Flame and heat
2. Ember attack
3. Structure-to-structure

Home Survivability

The probability that a home will survive is dependent on a number of factors and it has very little to do with chance or luck. There are clear patterns and reasons why some homes burn and why others do not. The fire ‘front’ moving through the WUI is very complex. Unlike areas of continuous vegetation, not everything is consumed by the fire. Fire intensity is high in some areas and low in others. The spread of fire can appear patchy, sporadic and isolated due to embers landing in different areas.

Lessons Learned.. Or Not

Homeowners already rebuilding the same way as before (image above). For the Vulcan analysis and report to have an impact, the respective industry leaders must take charge and work towards developing/ improving people and systems. There are recommendations provided in the report, which concern the role-players in the Eden District and the Western Cape. There are also ideas and concepts which may appeal to a broader audience. For there to be progress, there needs to be a call to action. The first step is usually the hardest and the most important. What is your next step?

Trigger Points Videos by Vulcan Wildfire Management

On the 7th of June 2017, two wildfires erupted in the Southern Cape area of South Africa. These raged across the landscape resulting in the loss of 8 lives and over a 1000 homes. The fires that started on the West and East side of Knysna eventually combined, surrounding the coastal town and all the people living in it. This was a traumatic event for the people involved and a landmark incident in the history of wildfires in South Africa. This is the documentary that supports the Vulcan Wildfire Management Situational Analysis Report of that catastrophic event.

Communication leads to connections, community and mutual value