SAAF contributes to Cape fire battleDate: 6 January 2017
By Dean Wingrin
The South African Air Force (SAAF) has been brought in to assist with the battle against the raging fires in the Cape Winelands which has wrought havoc during the first week of the new year.
The fires which raged around Somerset West over the last three days have caused damage worth over R50 million. Seven houses and other dwellings were gutted. At least 40% of the Vergelegen wine farm was burnt earlier this week, with the historic Lourensford Estate under threat on Friday as high winds swept fires closer to the famous wine farm and tourist stop near Somerset West.
Working on Fire have been battling the blaze with three Huey helicopters, a spotter plane and a fixed wing air tractor water bomber. About 300 fire-fighters, assisted by backups from the Eastern Cape and Free State, were also helping to put the blaze out. Other fires were raging in the nearby Grabouw area.
However, with the fires still threatening numerous homes and farms on Friday, the SAAF was called in to assist the Working on Fire aerial team. At least two Oryx Helicopters were dispatched to assist with dropping water on the fires.
News24 reported that the fire that started in the Helderberg Mountains near Somerset West on Tuesday had, by Wednesday, burnt down 3 500ha in the Helderberg Mountains, and 40% of the historic and award-winning Vergelegen wine farm. Bezweni Lodge, on the mountain slopes in the Sir Lowry's Pass area, was also guttted, leaving the owner Peter Weideman with only the clothes he was wearing and items in his pockets.
It has not yet been confirmed from where the Oryx and crews were deployed, but the closest SAAF unit that operates the Oryx medium-transport helicopter is 22 Squadron, based at AFB Ysterplaat in Cape Town.