Firefight chopper lost to bungling

2010-07-15 00:00

THE KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union (KwaNalu) has criticised the provincial Agriculture Department for being incompetent after it allegedly failed to secure a special firefighting helicopter for the fire season.

In a statement, KwaNalu charged that the incompetence of the department led the international owners of the helicopter to withdraw it from the province. It is believed that the helicopter has instead been deployed in Turkey.

The Russian-built “heavy-lifter” helicopter is a crucial force in fighting runaway fires.

It travels very fast, has built-in equipment to draw water on any nearby dam during firefighting, can load up to four tons of water and drop firefighting personnel into remote areas.

It was withdrawn from the pro­vince after the department had failed to sign a service agreement with Firestop, the organisation funded by the government and land owners to combat fires and manage the helicopter on behalf of a charter company.

Robin Barnsley, president of KwaNalu expressed anger at the department’s incompetence.

He said that while there are still other firefighting planes, the province’s ability to combat runway fires has been compromised.

“When the smaller planes are water bombing, they have to fly back to the base, refill and fly back again, but with the heavy lifter, it has a built-in bucket that allows it to draw water from any nearby dam and can carry up to four tons.”

He said that because of the problem KwaNalu had experienced with the department in the past, it had tried to push for the service agreement to be signed early this fire season.

“In the past, the department has delayed payment, causing failure to honour the financial terms of the service agreement on time, and this season the service agreement has been with the department, unsigned, and the charter company could not risk not getting paid so they took it elsewhere.”

Barnsley said the loss of this essential service will set back firefighting in the province as the helicopter equipment has in past fire seasons played a crucial and invaluable role in the management of runaway fires.

“It’s not only the farming community that stands to lose out; this helicopter has played a significant role in combating fires in the rural areas,”continued Barnsley.

He called for the community to be cautious as conditions are conducive to runaway fires.

The department of Agriculture was contacted for comment and did not respond by the time of going to press.

Join the conversation! 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. 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

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 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.