Firefight helicopter 'cost too much'

2010-07-20 00:00

THE KZN Agriculture Department says astronomical costs were behind its decision not to sign a service agreement contract with a fire-fighting company, which resulted in a “heavy lifter” helicopter necessary for fighting runaway fires being redeployed elsewhere during the fire season.

The department was responding to an article in The Witness last week that reported it had failed to sign a service agreement with firefighting organisation Firestop, which managed the Russian-built heavy lifter on behalf of a charter company.

Fearing that they would not be paid after poor previous experiences with the department, the charter company removed its helicopter from the province and apparently deployed it to Turkey.

In a statement, spokesperson Zakhele Nyuswa said the cost of operating the chopper influenced their decision.

He said the department takes fires and other disasters seriously especially because they threaten human lives, flora and fauna and the provincial economy. However, the department also has a duty to uphold financial austerity measures.

“The agreement in question previously cost the department and the national department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry R3 million a year just to be on standby.

“It cost a further R30 000 on average per take-off.”

Nyuswa said the department is still ready for any eventuality.

“If a fire broke out today, the department, working with other departments and the Provincial Disaster Management Centre, would be able to respond appropriately and adequately.”

He urged the public and the agricultural sector not to panic.

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