Hope amidst the ashes: Knysna fire stories

3 min read 16 November 2017

Residents of Knysna have united to compile and publish a coffee table book and accompanying DVD that documents the catastrophic fires that ravaged through the coastal towns of Sedgefield, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay in June 2017.

Called Knysna Fire Stories, the book is proudly sponsored by South Africa’s leading short-term insurer, Santam. It features real stories of tragedy, heroism and kindness during and after the inferno and also contains dramatic images taken by Garden Route-based amateur and professional photographers. Over 3400 photos, 250 videos and 160 stories were submitted to be considered for publication in the book.

The Knysna Fire Stories team includes founder, Justine Edwards, co-founders Dominic Morel and Andrew Aveley and the Eden Community Initiative (NPO) team director, John Noble,  editorial manager, Emma Broadway and financial administrator Francois Geldenhuys.

Edwards said locals were overwhelmed by the generosity and the feeling of togetherness the tragedy catalysed. “As part of the project to compile the book, we interviewed many people, including firefighters, the NSRI crew and everyday heroes like Daniela Dotan, who made more than 25,000 meals for those affected by the crisis. While some of the accounts bring home the gravitas and sadness of the situation, others are more light-hearted. A social media post, for example, asked what people grabbed when evacuating their homes. Some items were especially surprising, including a banana, cat litter tray, pot of curry and an elephant’s tooth,” she said.

The fires have become known as the worst disaster of its kind in recent South African history. The Knysna Municipality has, for instance, estimated that due to the fire, it has suffered losses of R496 million. Nine people were recorded to have lost their lives, and at least 1,000 properties were either totally engulfed by the fire or suffered damage. Santam has reported processing client claims directly related to the fire worth nearly R800 million.

Mokaedi Dilotsotlhe, Santam’s Executive Head of Brand and Marketing said that Santam was proud to have been on the ground to deliver on its brand promise and living up to its responsibility of being a good corporate citizen. “Insurance exists to help people when adversity strikes,” he said.

“The book provides first-hand experiences and stories of human heroism, together with powerful visuals.  From what was a horrible tragedy, it offers a message of hope and is a testament to the power of a community in overcoming adversity. As Santam, we not only strive to offer insurance that is good and proper, but also to ensure that people’s lives are restored to normality after such tragedies,” he said.

All proceeds from the book will go towards funding the equipment and training for a local volunteer firefighting and emergency services group. Knysna Fire Stories is already 20% pre-sold. To secure your copy, e-mail your details to orders@knysnafirestories.co.za. The books will be available for collection in mid-December from various collection points. Follow their progress on Facebook - ‘Knysna Fire Stories 2017’.