The South African military has made three helicopters available with immediate effect to assist in firefighting, evacuation and general disaster management on the fire ravaged Garden Route which has been burning since Wednesday, fanned by strong storm winds.
“The Joint Operations Division has responded to requests from Western Cape provincial disaster management,” Lieutenant Colonel Piet Paxton, Staff Officer, Operational Communication, told defenceWeb ahead of a meeting set to finalise further deployments to assist the towns of Knysna, George and Plettenberg Bay as well as communities, both rural and agricultural, in the affected areas.
“The helicopters to be deployed are two Oryx and a BK-117. The BK will obviously come from 15 Squadron’s Charlie flight based at Port Elizabeth and will fly in the Telstar and command and control roles while the Oryx will assist with firefighting and evacuation,” he said, adding it was currently not certain whether the rotary-winged aircraft would come from AFB Durban (15 Squadron) or AFB Bloemspruit (87 Helicopter Flying School).
“Reports of looting have been received from the Knysna area and a another request has come from Western Cape disaster management for ground-based resources to assist as police, municipal and private security are presently stretched to the limit.”
Indications are the request will be met by deploying soldiers either from 6 SA Infantry Battalion at Grahamstown or Infantry School in Oudtshoorn.
“These decisions will be taken during this morning’s meeting as well as where troops will be pre-positioned before moving in operationally. Decisions also have to be made on logistic support as far as fuel, rations and accommodation are concerned,” Paxton said, adding the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) has also been asked to supple water tankers and bunkers.
“We do not have exact details as yet, but all indications are the water is for both firefighting and human use,” he said.
Department of Defence head of communication Siphiwe Dlamini on Wednesday said an Oryx helicopter and crew had been put on standby to assist with emergency evacuations in the greater Cape Town area, where harsh weather has damaged infrastructure and left many homeless. So far eight people have been killed by the storm and fires in the Western Cape.
The helicopter will be one of the medium transport machines operated by 22 Squadron out of AFB Ysterplaat and will, according to Dlamini, respond as directed by the Western Cape Provincial Joint Operations Centre.