GEORGE NEWS - According to a survey just completed by the George Fire Department, Wilderness is at extreme risk.
Sandwiched between the 2017 Knysna fire (which consumed 19 000ha and 1 000 houses) and the 2018 Garden Route fires (which burnt some 100 000ha with eight lives lost), the Wilderness region last experienced fires in August 2016 - three years ago.
At the time four homes in Lake Road and Third Avenue in Wilderness burnt down and others were damaged, but very little bush or veld was burnt.
This means the area has an exceptionally high fire-fuel load with properties where fire-loving aliens like pines and wattle are rife.
In addition, it takes time for fire units to reach Wilderness, which includes plots and farms beyond the lakes.
To reduce the risk, local property owners have formed six area-specific, volunteer-driven fire management units (FMUs). Although each FMU operates totally independently, they have united to form a Fire Forum under the well-respected Wilderness Ratepayers and Residents Association (WRRA) in order to liaise with municipal fire-fighting services with one voice.
Already the WRRA Fire Forum is working to update maps used by the fire services. Many Wilderness roads are marked 'No Name', so if a homeowner phones in to report a fire in Kooboberry Road, for example, the fire engine may not be able to find it on their maps. Even some entire suburbs are incorrectly named: Langvlei Dunes is shown as 'The Dunes', a name already given to a collection of homes on the coast some 4 kilometres away. Used to fighting urban fires, the George Fire and Rescue Services also need the local knowledge of dirt roads and water fill-up points that local FMU volunteers can supply.
Launch on 7 August
The WRRA Fire Forum is being launched with a talk at the Wilderness Hotel on Wednesday 7 August at 18:00 for 18:30. An insurance expert will be revealing lessons learnt by property owners and insurance companies in the aftermath of the Knysna fires. George fire chief Neels Barnard will address the fire risks their recent survey has highlighted, and André Hacquebord will explain how FMUs can help prevent a start-up fire from becoming a major disaster, as well as outlining key roles of the FMUs.
Entry to the talk is R20 and includes a 16-page booklet on how to reduce your personal fire risk.
"We must not believe that it is someone else's responsibility to save our properties," says Hacquebord. "It is ours."
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