Knysna fires: The aftermath so far

They needed help, as many of their staff members were directly affected by the devastating fires which had ravaged the area.

Roxy de Villiers, Michael Butler and Ingrid Pepler were the other journalists from different branches in Johannesburg joining me for the adventure.

On Monday morning, as we drove towards Knysna from George Airport, smoke could still be seen billowing on the mountaintops, a hint of what was to come.

Driving into the iconic beautiful scenery that is Knysna with its winding roads and lagoon, shocked me beyond words. The scene that hits you can only be described as a post-World War II picture reminiscent of Germany after the bombs had left their carnage.

The news reports cannot show a dent of the extent of devastation that has befallen the place. To drive past houses left in rubble only to see their neighbouring houses left unscathed makes you ponder the whole existence of a higher force at play.

This was later explained by firefighters: the flames carried by the wind came down like fireballs and could blast a house and leave others around it intact. In other scenarios the fire would go into the ground, into the roots of trees accumulating with natural gases and blast out the ground like landmines.

This has left the town and its people just as mentally and emotionally traumatised as a war zone would have.

Everyone I spoke to had been affected. Even the editorial staff members at the Knysna-Plett Herald were living in their cars, not knowing if their houses would still be intact when they went home. The once-friendly easy-going people were left with a prevalent fear and lack of sleep as all are on edge and in fear of where and when the fires might strike next.

The air was still heavy with smoke, which looked like clouds over the town. All you tasted in your mouth and smelled on your clothes was the pungent smell of smoke. The views of the mountains and ocean were blurred with the haze.

The team split up, there were so many stories. Every person you passed on the street had a traumatic experience to share.

Businesses had been affected and at least 450 homes had been destroyed. At the Waterfront, a major tourist attraction, most shops and even the Spur were closed for business on Monday night as a stark reminder of the doom that had hit the area.

In the newsroom, editor Elaine King told us that one woman kept driving back home, out of habit, only to be harshly reminded that her home was ruined once she arrived.

The town was filled to the brim with donations pouring in from all over the country. Queues of people lined the street for hours waiting in line to receive food, water and blankets.

Most were living in shelters erected in halls and churches. More people were arriving daily.

On Tuesday night we watched the mountaintops over the town showing flickers of flames and the realisation dawned on us that the war might not be over.

Winds were expected to pick up on Thursday and the town awaited in fear of the unknown – but for now there was an
uneasy truce.

Tereasa Dias

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