Blaze continues as fire legend dies
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 hot lines 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 from 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 to refill the Bambi bucket after water-bombing a fire at Oshoek, when it looked as though the front rotor came loose. 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. Heyns was famous for his heroic efforts during the Knysna fires in 2017 and had been fighting fires from the sky for the past two decades.
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.
Heyns is survived by his former wife, a son and a daughter.
By yesterday noon, thousands of hectares of sustainable harvest fynbos and wildlife grazing had been lost and significant damage to fences and other infrastructure was recorded.
The command team thanked the political and operational arms of the Garden
Route and Overberg district municipalities, Hessequa, George and Mossel Bay 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 in the past two days."
A full update on the fire was expected yesterday evening at 19:00.
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Pieces of the wrecked helicopter in which Nico Heyns lost his life doing what he did best - fighting fires.
The legendary aerial firefighter Nico Heyns, died when his WoF chopper went down.
The fire has left the area charred. Photo: Mossel Bay Helicopters