Fire continues to rage
Bomber planes, choppers and ground crews yesterday afternoon continued to battle the devastating fire in Vermaaklikheid that had destroyed eight homes and led to the death of legendary chopper pilot, Nico Heyns. According to the incident command team, 60% of the fire had been contained by noon, while the fire was still active on two flanks with several hotlines in the secluded holiday village on the Duiwenhoks River, 35km outside Riversdale. Firefighters worked through the night to protect property and yesterday serious flareups were continuously battled in extreme heat. Yesterday morning a South African Air Force Oryx helicopter, one spotter plane, two bomber planes, 97 Working on Fire (WoF) ground crew members, 30 professional firefighters, four Southern Cape Fire Protection Association senior members and 10 Goukou Farm watch members were battling the blaze that started on Sunday possibly by a spark from an electric pole. Death of a legend Heyns died when his WoF Huey chopper crashed to the ground at 09:45 on Tuesday morning. According to an eyewitness, Jan Jacobs, Heyns had just turned the chopper around to refill the Bambi bucket after waterbombing a fire at Oshoek, when it looked as though the front rotor came unstuck. The chopper fell and Heyns died on the scene. His good friend, chopper pilot Kobus Crous of Mossel Bay Helicopters, was fighting the same fire from the sky and also believes the crash was due to a technical problem. He said Heyns was a very careful pilot who never took chances. Kishugu Aviation, who is contracted to do aerial firefighting for WoF, said the cause of the accident is unknown and that the SA Civil Aviation Authority is investigating the accident. The new normal Clive Africa, director of disaster management at Garden Route District Municipality said fires such as the one at Vermaaklikheid is our new normal. “Especially the Hessequa area is very susceptable to wild fires. The area has lots of natural fuel and residents will have to invest in fire breaks and other preventative measures.” The Hessequa Municipality under the leadership of Mayor Grant Riddles has made great strides in establishing its own fire services in the area. Riddles is also expecting the delivery of a brand new 4x4 fire engine in November to further reinforce their current firefighting vehicles. By yesterday noon, 1000s of hectare of sustainable harvest Fynbos and wildlife grazing had been lost and significant damage to fences and other infrastructure were recorded. The command team thanked the political and operational arms of the Eden and Overberg District Municipalities; Hessequa, George and Mosselbay Local Authorities and the Provincial and National Disaster Management centres. "A special note of thanks to the Enviro Wildfire Services under the leadership of Rob Erasmus. Their selfless service and dedication saved several structures the past two days."
The night sky lights up as the fire continues to rage on Tuesday night. INSET: Nico Heyns
Working on Fire workers during a short-lived breather.