SANDF investigating cause of fire at Air Force Base Waterkloof


The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has launched an investigation into the cause of a fire at Air Force Base (AFB) Waterkloof on Sunday that broke out at a fuel storage site.

The fire started in the late evening, at around 19:00, with clouds of black smoke seen billowing from the South African Air Force base outside Pretoria.

Brigadier General Andries Mahapa, Director Defence Corporate Communication, told ENCA the fire was contained at about 20:00 after firefighters responded to the blaze, which damaged two fuel tanks. No injuries were reported and no other structures were damaged, he said. Mahapa emphasised that there was no explosion, only a fire.

He thanked the fire team at the base after they responded “very quickly” to the incident. Six to seven fire trucks remained on standby on Sunday night.

South African Air Force Director: Corporate Staff Services (DCSS), Brigadier General Mongezi Michael Kweta, told News24 that the fire started at a bulk fuel storage facility following a suspected leakage from a burst pump, and that no foul play was suspected.

Tshwane emergency services spokesperson Roland Hendricks is reported by the Pretoria Rekord as saying a 24 000 litre fuel tank caught fire. AFB Waterkloof firefighters managed to bring the fire under control and did not require assistance from Tswhane municipality resources.

In a statement on Sunday night, Mahapa said the cause of the fire, the magnitude of the damage and the cost of the damage to the Bulk Fuel Depot will form part of an investigation that will interrogate all events and or incidents that might have led to the fire breakout at the base.

A preliminary report will be out as soon as possible and will determine if foul play was involved, but at the moment no foul play is suspected.

On Monday (24 February) operations at the base were ongoing, but aircraft were refuelling at other bases in the vicinity.

Waterkloof is the busiest South African Air Force base and the largest and most important in Gauteng. It is host to 21 Squadron, which flies the Air Force’s VIP aircraft, as well as 28, 41 and 44 squadrons, which fly transport aircraft like the Lockheed MartinC-130 Hercules, Casa C212, Beechcraft King Air and Cessna Caravan. It is also home to maintenance and other units like the Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre.

While combat aircraft do use Waterkloof, the South African Air Force’s Gripen fighters are based at 2 Squadron in Makhado along with Hawk lead-in fighter/trainers.

The Waterkloof fire comes just over two years on from a fire at Air Force Base Swartkop just 6 kilometres away, which broke out in an historical hangar on 10 August 2019. Although the hangar was destroyed, there was little of value inside. It is not clear what caused the AFB Swartkop fire.