South Africa: St Francis Bay Fire Damage Assessed

Johannesburg — It was too to early to ascertain how much damage was caused by a fire in St Francis Bay in the Eastern Cape, an insurance underwriter said on Monday.

"It will take some days before we have a clear idea of the full impact of the fire," Thatch Risk Acceptances managing director Natasja Blok said in a statement.

She said the damage would be a huge cost for the entire insurance industry. Thatched homes in the area had been valued at between R1 million to R16 million.

"A house can burn to the ground in ten minutes flat so it often ends up being a total loss."

Blok said thatch-roof houses were prone to fire damage.

"Ultimately, if there is a raging fire in your vicinity, the best advice is to drench the roof with water. If the roof is wet, it will significantly reduce the risk of the thatch catching alight," she said.

"However, under extreme circumstances with high winds this will reduce the effectiveness."

On Sunday, a fire started around 5.30pm at the Royal Wharf developments.

The flames were fanned by a strong westerly wind. Ten fire engines had been brought in and more were called from the Nelson Mandela Bay and Koukamma municipalities.

By midnight, the fire was half extinguished and not an immediate threat to other houses.

Firefighters were sent home around 4am after the fire was extinguished.

Initial reports said more than 100 houses were destroyed, but Kouga municipality spokeswoman Laura-Leigh Randall said the figure was lower.

She said 75 buildings, including 68 houses, six flats and an office premises, were destroyed or damaged.

"Mop-up operations are underway. The cause of the fire is unknown at this stage but the police forensic unit will be investigating."

Eastern Cape local government MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane would visit the emergency control room in Humansdorp for a briefing before moving on to St Francis Bay.

Damage assessment was done on Monday.

"[We are] busy finalising the report," Randall said.

All residents in the area had been asked to evacuate, and a temporary joint operations centre had been set up at the local police station.

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