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High risk of mega-fires in SA - Knysna fire report

High risk of mega-fires in SA - Knysna fire report


The risk of so-called mega-fires recurring in South Africa remains high.

That is according to a report on the devastating 2017 Knysna fires commissioned by insurer, Santam and completed by the CSIR, the Research Alliance for Disaster and Risk Reduction and the Fire Engineering Research Unit at Stellenbosch University.

The report, released on Thursday, states that the fires, which claimed seven lives and caused an estimated R2bn in damage in the Knysna area, were the worst in South Africa's history.

It also found that the severity of the fires was caused by a cocktail of factors including drought, low atmospheric humidity, strong winds and abundant fuel.

One of the reports key recommendations was for municipalities to effectively manage and control "the presence of fire-prone vegetation and other combustible or flammable material on tracts of land usually referred to as fuel loads".

Allied to this is for municipalities to attend to all fire callouts, even if they don't appear threatening, a greater focus on public education and awareness programmes on the risks associated with wildfires.

Santam's chief underwriting officer, John Melville, said while one can't do anything about conditions created by climate change, steps can be taken to reduce the frequency and magnitude of wildfires.

The report also urged the insurance industry to help build the capacity of municipal fire services to deal with wildfire prevention and response.

Melville said the report also encouraged insurers to support prescribed burning by extending insurance cover for the execution of such preventive measures.

"Insurers can help by requiring policy-holders to undertake measures to reduce risk - for example reducing flammable materials and creating defensible spaces around homes."

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