‘You are our hero, a legend’

2013-10-01 00:00

HAILED as a hero and a legend, the Kok­stad community is mourning the loss of Bergview College’s deputy principal, who died helping to fight a runaway fire on a neighbour’s farm.

Father of three Pietie Bronkhorst (36), who lived on the Mariner Walk farm in Cedarville, died after sustaining 95% burns to his body while he was out with his father-in-law, Gerrie Nel, and other farmers trying to contain a runaway veld fire on a neighbouring farm, Intimi.

The farm belongs to Bergview College’s owner Braam van Tubbergh and has been completely destroyed by the fire. He farms firewood and cattle.

Bronkhorst, a mathematics teacher who was involved in rugby coaching and development, together with the other farmers, became trapped on the veld when a “ball of flame”, likened to a “tornado of fire” blew towards them in heavy wind, causing Bronkhorst to fall into the flames.

Seeing the danger, Bronkhorst’s father-in-law had managed to load as many farmers and workers as he could into a bakkie to flee the inferno. Thinking that Bronkhorst was also on the bakkie, he drove off, not realising that Bronkhorst had fallen before managing to get onto the bakkie.

Nel barely managed to escape, and sustained burns on his face from flames that came in through the bakkie window.

When the group eventually realised that Bronkhorst was not on the bakkie, they made their way back to look for him and found him writhing in pain, lying on the ground. They then loaded him into the bakkie and transported him to a tarred road where paramedics from Rescue Medical Services were waiting for him. He was stabilised and then transported to Durban’s St Augustine’s hospital. Bronkhorst succumbed to his injuries on Friday when he suffered multiple organ failure.

Fighting back tears, an emotional Van Tubbergh, who was the last person to speak to Bronkhorst at the hospital, said he was devastated.

“His third last sentence to me was that he loved me. His second last sentence was that I must convince his father-in-law that it was not his fault and his last sentence was: ‘We fought the fire’. It tears at my heart. We were very close to each other. We saw each other every day. I was on holiday in Margate and got the call about what happened and I rushed to the hospital,” said Van Tubbergh.

He said reports indicated that Bronkhorst and the other farmers had responded to a call for help from the East Griqualand Fire Protection Association (EGFPA) to combat the runway fire.

“They had just put out the fire on the neighbouring farm, Melkfontein, when a ball of fire blew onto my farm and really spread. The fire was aggressive and the wind was very bad, with flames going up to 40 metres. Pietie and the other guys were higher up, and another ball of fire flew towards them and they were trapped between the burning veld and this flying ball of fire. Gerrie shouted at all of them to get onto the bakkie and drove off. One of my workers said he noticed Pietie and shouted for him. He said Pietie looked disorientated and started running, but there was no way out and he fell directly onto the flames,” said Van Tubbergh.

EGFPA’s Des Paton said weather conditions on the day were horrific.

A memorial service for Bronkhorst will be held at the NG Kerk in Matatiele tomorrow, while he will be buried at the Mariner Walk farm on Saturday, following a service at the NG Kerk, Cedarville.

He is survived by his wife, Zoe, and three children aged six, four and three years old.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.