Management of Eden District Municipality, on 30 June 2017, recognized and praised efforts by all the dedicated, courageous and heroic Eden DM firefighters and those who volunteered during the June 2017 inferno. It was the most devastating fire that swept through the Eden district since 1869.
Cllr Memory Booysen, Executive Mayor of Eden District Municipality, during his keynote address at the Appreciation Ceremony, explained to those present that there are no words to describe what firefighters and volunteers went through. “No matter what we say or how we say it, we will never experience the emotions and trauma that you all had to. You all saw properties destroyed, people and animals die. I also understand that you might have felt helpless at times, but be assured that we were and will always support and pray for you, every step of the way”.
Cllr Booysen boasted about the firefighters’ accolades and reminded those present, that Eden DM has the best firefighters in South Africa. “You know when you are good; it rubs off on others, you make me feel like a Toughest Firefighter too.” He said that during his engagements with the President of South Africa, Mr Jacob Zuma and the Premier of the Western Cape, Ms Helen Zille, he reiterated to them about Eden DM having the best firefighters in South Africa and that they did the best that they could under the circumstances.”
The Mayor also reminded everyone that when one house or twenty houses are destroyed, it is a disaster and that when a family suffers, it is also a disaster.
Mayor Booysen made a promise that the conditions that firefighters return to at the Eden DM Fire station’s dormitories and facilities will be improved, “starting today”. He was baffled by the fact that firefighters never complained about the space they returned to after hours of tireless work and pleaded with them to raise issues in the future.
Mr Monde Stratu, Eden DM Municipal Manager (MM), committed to the Mayor’s instruction of creating a long-overdue relaxing space for firefighters. He also announced that Mr Gerhard Otto, Eden DM Manager: Disaster Management, was nominated to form part of the National Disaster Management Centre’s task team responsible for preparing guidelines that will be used to address disaster relief initiatives in South Africa.
Mr Gerhard Otto gave a brief overview of the fires over the past seven months and stressed that firefighters hardly had a normal life. “Many firefighters in the Eden District had to sleep at work for days on end, leaving families alone and worried at home.” During December 2016, persistent dry weather conditions fuelled wildfires which affected large parts of Knysna, Mossel Bay, Hessequa and George. It is predicted that annually, 7% of the Eden District will burn.
For Mr Otto, the June 2017 inferno reminded him of the seriousness of the tragedy that struck the United States of America on 11 September 2001. The entire world watched in shock and horror how the tragedy unfolded. “Fortunately for the district, we were able to deploy 1106 firefighters from all over South Africa. Every single person’s efforts had an invaluable effect on lives and properties saved.”
Recent statistics about the disaster, are as follows:
- Aircraft from various institutions dropped approximately 1700 water bombs. In total, this amounted to 2.9 million litres of water bombs.
- Knysna lost 805 formal dwellings and Bitou, 80.
- 48 Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) houses were destroyed.
- 180 Informal structures were destroyed.
- The wind damaged 456 homes in George.
- Aerial firefighting costs amount to R13.5 million (SANDF R8 million, Working on Fire R5.5 million).
- The has amounted to R4.2 billion in damages.
Mr Johan Brand, Eden DM Station Officer, who presented the Appreciation Programme, also made use of a slideshow to visually present how different areas in the Eden district have been affected since December 2016. All firefighters received medals of honour and certificates. Special recognition was given to Mr Phillip Wilken, who voluntarily fought fires by working side-by-side with Mr Deon van Wyk, Eden DM Deputy Fire Chief. Mr Deon Van Wyk, rang a bell in tribute to efforts by all firefighters. While the bell rang, Eden DM Firefighter, Mr Emile Conrad performed a beautiful saxophone rendition of I was blind, but now I see.
Mr Clive Africa, Eden DM Executive Manager, Community Services, during his address said: “Out of the ashes, beauty has come forth in the form of hope, compassion, courage, kindness, forgiveness, and above all, the spirit of generosity by the people of South Africa and across the world”.
Special thank you to Eden FM
“Eden FM, without hesitation, agreed to provide sound to Eden DM at the Appreciation Event at no cost. Your contribution does not go unseen, we appreciate it”, – Mr Monde Stratu, Eden DM Municipal Manager.
A firefighting symposium will be held later this year where past strategies and future interventions will be discussed.