The appearance of a 22 Squadron Oryx helicopter slinging a Bambi bucket this week signalled the re-entry of the SA Air Force (SAAF) to the firefighting effort in the Western Cape.
The southern parts of the Cape Town metropolis have been plagued by fire since Sunday and extraordinarily high temperatures on Tuesday have put firefighters on the ground and in the air under extreme pressure.
In October 2013 the provincial legislature heard the SAAF would not make rotary-winged aircraft based at AFB Ysterplaat available to assist in firefighting. At the time Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning provincial minister, Anton Bredell said he was “worried” about the national government’s ability to support and help the provincial government. He also indicated he would be contacting Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, about the non-availability of air force assistance for firefighting. This was because part of the SAAF Mission which states “We provide deployable multi-role capabilities for the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) in service of our country” which he interpreted in part as assisting with provincial and municipal firefighting efforts during the Western Cape summer fire season.
What happened after that has never been made public but this week’s massive fire brought out a 22 Squadron Oryx. It was seen on Monday passing motorists on the M5 in the Fish Hoek area without a Bambi bucket and again 30 minutes later with another bucket. Indications are the helicopter returned to base to refuel and collect a new bucket having damaged the first one, a Cape Town resident said. Another Mother City resident reported an Oryx slinging a Bambi bucket flying over his property at around 18h15 yesterday.
A source in the provincial Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning Department said it appeared the call for help to the air force emanated from Cape Town’s disaster management agency.
At the time of publication the SAAF had not issued any statement about the force’s involvement in the current round of firefighting.
The Cape Town city council said earlier today in a statement its fire and rescue service continues to lead the charge against the massive fire in the south peninsula with the assistance of a host of other agencies.
The fire started in the early hours of Sunday above Boyes Drive in Muizenberg and subsequently spread over an extensive area including Ou Kaapse Weg, Chapman’s Peak, Hout Bay and Tokai as a result of strong winds.
Helicopters and fixed wing aircraft from Working on Fire have been at the forefront of aerial firefighting operations assisted by hundreds of ground-based firefighters, volunteers as well as council employees.
To date the fire has razed more than 4,000 ha of vegetation. Thirty houses have had to be evacuated and 13 homes have been damaged by fire. Residents of two old age homes have also been evacuated as a safety precuation.