Hope amidst the ashes: Knysna fire stories

16 November 2017 Santam

Book featuring local photography and heroic stories to raise funds for local fire relief efforts.

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 during June 2017.

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

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,” the Team shares.

The fire has been dubbed 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. To date, Santam has reported processing client claims totalling R800 million.

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

“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 a testament to the power of a community to overcome adversity. As Santam, we not only strive to offer insurance that is good and proper, but to also 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, email your details to The books will be available for collection in mid-December from various collection points. Follow their progress on Facebook - ‘Knysna Fire Stories 2017’.

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