SAAF Oryxes log just on 94 firefighting hours in 11 days


The SA Air Force, in the form of AFB Ysterplaat-based 22 Squadron, was a latecomer to the fires which ravaged parts of Western Cape earlier this month. That it was able to contribute is ably demonstrated by the almost 94 hours flown on firefighting sorties in a short space of time.

These hours in the air, more often than not in hazardous conditions exacerbated by wind, smoke and the ever-present danger posed by the tinder-dry conditions saw well over two million litres of water delivered to identified fire hotspots.
“All told a pair of Oryx medium helicopters with four crews were deployed after agencies and companies contracted to the provincial government indicated they could not keep up with the need for aerial firefighting equipment,” SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Joint Operations Division spokesman Captain (SAN) Jaco Theunissen said.
“Working on Fire is one of the contracted agencies that assist the Western Cape provincial government during the annual fire season in the province, usually from December to March and caused by high temperature, dry vegetation and strong winds.”

January 6 saw the first sortie flown by 22 Squadron when fires raged out of control in the Somerset West area.
“A pair of Oryx and four crews was used to assist in firefighting. The crews rotated to ensure effective firefighting at all times the SAAF was deployed and operational. By January 7 the helicopters were able to contain the fires to the extent that ground-based firefighting personnel could move in safely and suppress the fires.
“Three days later fires broke out in the Du Toitskloof area and 22 Squadron was again called in to assist. A day of firefighting sorties brought these blazes under control and two days later on January 12 fires in Simon’s Town, attended to by provincial and municipal firefighters as well as SA Navy emergency services personnel, necessitated assistance from the air in the form of Oryxes with two thousand litre Bambi buckets.”

The final deployment in the current round of firefighting saw 22 Squadron called to the Paarl area on January 17 where farms were in danger and natural vegetation was being burnt over a large area. Oryx crews spent more than 12 hours a day in the air bringing the fires under control.
“All told 93.6 hours were flown and 1 389 Bambi buckets carrying two million seven hundred and seventy-eight thousand litres of water delivered on the fires,” Theunissen said.