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Knysna Fires of 2017 – How to minimise the risk and learn from the disaster

On 7 June 2017, Knysna and the Eden district municipal area were engulfed by one of the worst wildfire disasters in South Africa’s history. The disaster caused more than R2 billion worth of damage in these areas.

Following the disaster, Santam commissioned the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Research Alliance for Disaster and Risk Reduction (RADAR) and the Fire Engineering Research Unit (FireSUN) at Stellenbosch University to conduct research into the cause of the inferno, lessons on how to mitigate against such mega-fires and to produce recommendations for Government entities, the insurance industry and communities.

On 6 June 2019, the report detailing key insights and learnings was released. “Our goal was to analyse the causes of the Knysna fires and to find out why it was so severe, but more importantly the purpose was to establish how we can reduce the risk of recurrence and the severity of such fires should they reoccur. While we can’t do anything about conditions created by climate change, we can take steps to reduce the frequency and magnitude of wildfires”, John Melville, Chief Underwriting Officer at Santam shared at the release of the report last week.

The report urged the insurance industry to help build the capacity of municipal fire services to deal with wildfire prevention and response. Melville says the report also urged insurers to support prescribed burning by extending insurance cover for the execution of such preventive measures. “Insurers can help by requiring policyholders to undertake measures to reduce risk – for example reducing flammable materials and creating defensible spaces around homes.”

Santam needs to be commended for instigating this research. It is to be hoped that the general public would have taken note of the terrible consequences of under-insuring. This is also an excellent example to use when discussing annual reviews with clients, where the latter try to save on premiums.

Click here to download the media release.

Click here to download the consolidated report.

Click here to download the detailed report

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