Air Force and Navy part of Western Cape firefighting effort


The South African Air Force and Navy provided much-needed assistance during last week’s devastating fires in the Western Cape. Also in on the assistance side was Airbus Defence and Space, through Southern Mapping, which provided fire intelligence via its satellite imaging.

With over 5 000 hectares of vegetation burnt and 14 structures either damaged or destroyed as well as residents evacuated at the height of the blaze, the SA Air Force (SAAF) via AFB Ysterplaat-based 22 Squadron was the first arm of service to assist. Estimates are the cost of fighting and putting out the blaze will be in the region of R5 million.

Two Oryx medium transport helicopters from the squadron delivered more than 70 Bambi buckets of water onto hotspots during five hours of flying over a two day period. They came into the firefighting fray after the aerial side of operations had rested solely with Working on Fire and its Hueys.

Reports indicate there were seven aircraft, both fixed and rotary-winged, utilised to dampen down areas allowing access to ground-based firefighters. All told 200 flying hours were logged fighting the fires which broke out on Sunday, March 5.

Apart from being a nature reserve, Silvermine is also home to a major SA National Defence Force (SANDF) communications facility. Both the facility’s antenna farms were hit by flames with a Navy source confirming to defenceWeb that no major damage was caused.
“There was no loss of communication and inspections to date have shown only antenna stays damaged by the fire. A further and full inspection will be done,” he said.

The Navy also put its firefighting expertise at the disposal of Cape Town’s disaster management department after being asked to assist last Thursday. The firefighting service from Naval Base Simon’s Town was dispatched to Cape Point Nature Reserve. More than six hours later they and other firefighters left after a job well done in the face of a strong south westerly wind.

Fire intelligence using the earth observation satellite constellation TerraSAR-X, SPOT 5, SPOT 7, Pleiades 1A and 18 was provided to fire management personnel by Southern Mapping in partnership with Airbus Defence and Space.

Archive images from SPOT 7 (captured on February 7, 2015) were used as pre-assessment baseline data to enable a comparison study with the priority tasked Pleiades 1B imagery (collected on March 5, 2015) to determine the fire scar damage over the area.

By working with the Volunteer Wildfire Service’s (VWS) Newlands operations manager, Southern Mapping was able to distribute this comparison study as well as other valuable remotely sensed geo-information layers to key personnel. This data aided in efforts to combat the wildfires as well in the post assessment of the extent of the fire scar.