Pilot praised for two day non-stop battle against Cape infernos
A Working on Fire helicopter pilot worked like a machine for two days to stop the fires that had threatened parts of the holiday towns of St Francis Bay and Cape St Francis since Sunday.
Scooping water from residents’ swimming pools, he played an instrumental role in preventing the blaze from reaching the informal settlement of Sea Vista, on the border of the nature reserve where it originated.
While WOF would not allow News24 to speak to Nico Heyns directly, many residents sung his praises.
Pam Golding’s St Francis Bay franchisee, Richard Arderne, described how Heyns flew without a break since late on Sunday morning.
“He flew on his own, non-stop, from 11.30am until after dark, doing trips of about two minutes apart between collecting the water and dropping it over the fire. He must have flown over 300 round trips on Sunday alone,” said Arderne.
Heyns slept over in St Francis and was airborne before first light on Monday to carry on.
Photographer Cristopher Scott, who got a few pictures of Heyns while he was refuelling, said the pilot had done an amazing job.
“He really worked hard and played a big role in stopping the fire from crossing into the Sea Vista settlement,” he said.
WOF spokesperson Linton Rensburg said two of their Eastern Cape teams arrived at 05:00 on Monday and were still on the fire line that night, helping the Kouga Municipality’s Fire and Rescue Services.
No fatalities or injuries had been reported so far.
Heyns returned to Knysna late Monday afternoon, after the wind changed direction and rain fell, which helped the fire die down enough to be brought under control.
On Sunday, the local fire department had asked residents to wet their thatched roofs and clear bushes areas around their homes as a precaution.
Cape St Francis was left without electricity as the fire destroyed power lines. Early on Sunday evening, residents were asked to evacuate their homes. They returned once the fires were brought under control.
In November 2011, a runaway fire tore through the seaside town and destroyed 76 homes, many of which were thatched-roof villas and mansions.