Understanding What Caused the “Perfect Inferno”
While the immediate priority was disaster relief, the next step involved understanding the factors that led to the start of the blaze and outlining the lessons learnt in order to reduce exposures in the future. Bryte commissioned Protocol Forensic Fire Investigations (Protocol) to determine the origin of the fires, including the dynamics at play that caused it to spread as far and wide as it did.
Initially rumours of arson surfaced, however, the investigation revealed that the devastation was a culmination of a range of factors. Essentially the fire originated in three unrelated places:
- The first was caused by lightning which started on 6 June.
- The second was a fire that broke out in an informal settlement.
- The third occurred two days later when trees fell on power cables.
Protocol’s unique approach utilised satellite imagery from the Terra and Aqua satellites to map out the migration of the fire. These satellites covered the affected areas and data was fed from the Advanced Fire Information System – a satellite-based fire information tool that provides near real time fire information to users across the globe.
The spread of the fire was accelerated due to the berg winds (which peaked at 60km/h) resulting from the low-pressure system off the coast of Knysna, the cold front that was moving through the country at the time as well as the high-pressure system near Mozambique. In addition, dry plant material aggravated by prolonged drought conditions and trees further fuelled the fire.
Valuable Lessons Learnt
Predicting the particular mix of factors that aggravated the situation may not have been possible, but there are many lessons that can be applied to help limit customer exposure and accelerate recovery from such disasters. In fire-prone regions, working closely with local fire/fire-fighting associations should be a priority for all businesses and homeowners. These associations support by:
- Employing risk mitigation measures that are more sophisticated and comprehensive.
- Providing access to data and insights that can bolster individual risk mitigation measures. This could also include historical data on fire paths (patterns are usually noted at 50 to 60 year intervals). Bryte’s investigation showed that buildings had been constructed along fire paths and consequently, these suffered extensive damage.
- Cleaning up loose, dry material on the forest floor/woodlands/plantations, etc.
- Replanting trees after fires occur as the top soil becomes badly damaged leaving affected areas susceptible to flash flooding.
- Cutting down trees that may have suffered damage and could pose a threat in future.
Brokers are well placed to create an understanding of the inherent benefits of customers joining such associations and can also advise insurers on location-based risks to ensure that policies are accurately underwritten. Additionally, developing an appreciation for the right level of risk advice and cover is essential – prevention is often not possible when disasters of this magnitude strike hence, having protection could spell the difference between recovery and complete loss.