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An Ode to Our Cape Fire Pilots

It was an emotionally taxing week here in The Mother City as we waited with baited breath to see how the story of the Cape Fire would unfold. 15 years have passed since the last fire that ravaged 8000 hectares of vegetation, destroying 200 informal settlements and 70 homes in the process.

Since 2000, there have been major improvements to Cape Town’s fire services to ensure that they would be better organised for the next large-scale fire that would ultimately hit. Along with new staff, fire stations and equipment, the number of fire service aircrafts were also increased from 8 to 24, making sure we were well prepared to tackle any blaze from the sky as well as on the ground.

No one is a stranger to the efforts of our pilots during this battle and in the week of the Cape Fire around 200 flying hours were logged and over 2 million litres of water were dropped in an effort to douse the flames. People shared countless photos of choppers in action, filling up their buckets from the ocean, dams and even residential pools.

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It takes a great level of skill and stamina to be able to fight a fire from the sky, not to mention high levels of capital to keep the aircrafts in flight. Just two helicopters cost the city a combined R45 000 per hour – the Cape Fire called for four helicopters, two water bombers and one spotter plane that totalled nearly R3 million in costs.

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It was with awe that we watched these pilots combat the blaze, struggling against strong winds and poor visibility. The video below shows water-bombing footage from VWS firefighter Dean Harrison and gives you an idea of what our pilots were dealing with.

While we rejoiced at the news that the fire had been contained, the celebrations were dampened by the deaths of firefighter Nazeem Davies and helicopter pilot Willem “Bees” Marais. Our sincerest condolences go out to the families of both men – both heroes – who fought to protect us all.

We won’t forget the valiant efforts of the people both in the air and on the ground that worked tirelessly around the clock, as well as the support provided by the people of Cape Town in the form of monetary donations and much-needed supplies. Helen Zille phrased it perfectly:

“This certainly would have been a great deal worse had it not been for the extraordinary bravery of the firefighters and the meticulous planning and response of our fire services.

We owe them so much.”

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