Several hundred decommissioned and retired South African National Defence Force (SANDF) vehicles were destroyed in a fire at the Wallmansthal depot north of Pretoria during the night of 16 September.
The fire started at around 19:00 on Thursday evening and was only extinguished in the early hours of Friday morning. During that time, several hundred vehicles were destroyed, including trucks, trailers and other equipment.
The Sinoville Firefighting Association, which was first on the scene, told TimesLive that the Wallmansthal base had requested assistance, and the Association duly dispatched members with a fire engine. They were joined by Apies River rural fire protection association and later Tswhane firefighters.
“This is a tragedy if you look at how many vehicles were burnt. We brought the fire under control in the early hours of today [Friday] but we have left the vehicles to burn until they burn out. They are not posing any threat to human life,” association chairperson JP Botha told TimesLive.
It is understood that hot, dry and windy conditions spread a fire that had broken out near an informal settlement close by. Many of the vehicles stored in the open were surrounded by dry grass and brush and caught fire quickly due to strong wings.
Jacaranda FM reported SANDF spokesperson Mafi Mgobozi as saying that most of the vehicles which caught fire were not in use or were beyond repair. “Most of those vehicles are scrap vehicles,” he said.
An SANDF statement said an assessment of the overall damage to the property and vehicles is currently underway and will also form part of findings of an investigation into the matter. The SANDF clarified the vehicles belonged to the SANDF and Armscor – Armscor is the official SANDF materiel disposal agency.
The SA Army Main Ordinance Sub Depot Overhead Storage Park (OSP) in
Wallmansthal is used to store vehicles waiting for disposal or declared beyond economic repairs.
Defence expert and Director at African Defence Review, Darren Olivier, noted that the vehicles destroyed were stripped for parts and are awaiting sale or scrapping. “So there’s no operational impact on the SANDF. That said, fire prevention measures are clearly inadequate.”
This is not the first time vehicles have been destroyed by fire at Wallmansthal. In September 2017, a runaway fire burnt out 83 vehicles, mostly Samil trucks apparently unusable and awaiting disposal. Fire breaks were being burnt along the base perimeter fence when the weather changed and the fire quickly spread.
The sprawling Wallmansthal base is home to one of the SANDF’s largest vehicle parks, holding both serviceable and unserviceable vehicles and equipment. In addition to Casspirs, Buffels, Mambas and Samils, redundant equipment including field kitchens, towed water tankers, portable shower units and Sappers’ equipment such as graders, tractor/loader/backhoes and front-end loaders are stored at Wallmannsthal pending disposal.
There are close to a thousand vehicles in preservation storage at Wallmansthal – these are kept indoors and include Ratel armoured vehicles, Casspirs, Mambas, G6s, Zebras, Skimmels and Rooikats.
More than 2 000 unserviceable vehicles are in open storage, with some awaiting disposal and others awaiting cannibalisation or return to service.