SANParks spokesperson, Ike Phaahla has cautioned against conspiracy theories.

“As to whether it’s an inside job, we don’t want to speculate,” these were the words of the South African national Parks (SANParks) spokesperson, Isaac Phaahla, following yet another fire in one of the their national parks. This time however, a shop in the Tsitsikamma Section in the Garden Route National Park (GRNP), was gutted by a fire on Tuesday, the 22nd of September. This brings the total number of fires in SANParks parks, to three in as many weeks. All three of these fires occurred in shops within camps inside the parks which has led to widespread speculation that staff may very well be involved.

The raging inferno at the Letaba Rest Camp shop in the KNP. Photo: Supplied

According to Nandi Mgwadlamba, the Regional Communications Manager for SANParks Garden Route National Park, the fire was reportedly noticed in the temporary shop structure in the park just after 17:00.

As in the case of the previous two fires; the first one being at Letaba rest camp in the Kruger National Park and the second at the Berg en Dal camp also in the Kruger just a week later; nobody apparently knows who or what started the fire. The investigations into the first two fires have not even been finalized. One would assume it to be a priority given the influx of tourists expected as international travel is reopened.   

This was the scene in Berg en Dal camp, also in the KNP.

When asked whether the three fires were related, or merely a coincidence, Phaahla dismissed the notion of foul play immediately. Bulletin required an explanation as to the curious case of shops spontaneously combusting within SANParks operated parks.

“In the Tsitsikama fire, the insurers have engaged a forensic investigator who will start his work today [Wednesday],” Phaahla said. “In the KNP, Berg en Dal is the only place where the fire was in the restaurant , the other one was in a shop, and we will have to wait for the final conclusion by the investigators.”

Apparently, all the staffers who were living in the luxurious tourist accommodation within the KNP during the hard lockdown, have now returned to their staff quarters in compliance with the Covid-19 regulations. This was according to Phaahla.

The Tsitsikamma Camp was the third victim of the coincidental fires that plagued SANParks rest camps over the course of three weeks.

The GRNP General Manager Vuyiswa Thabethe in the meantime said that the fire at the Tsitsikama was extinguished by staff members and the fire and rescue teams from the Mountain to Ocean Company and Koukamma Municipality. Though the fire was reportedly extinguished with great haste, the shop could not be saved.

“We are grateful that no life was lost and no staff nor visitors sustained any injuries. We also extend our gratitude to the staff and emergency services team who contained the fire and prevented it from spreading to other structures,” concluded Thabethe.

*** Editor’s Comment: when three fires suddenly flare up in the space of three weeks and consume three of your buildings, investigations should be prioritized. Surely, the cause of the fire could be determined in three weeks? The cause of the Great Kloof fire in Magoebaskloof in 2019 was established and published not a day after the fire was brought under control. So too, was the cause of the fire that destroyed a small shopping complex in Tzaneen earlier this year, while the roof trusses were still smouldering. We urge SANParks to offer us, their visitors, peace of mind and prioritize their investigations as a matter of urgency.