'Hero' teacher dies after fighting fire

2013-10-01 14:45

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

Pietie Bronkhorst, 36, a father of three 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.

'Tornado of fire'

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” blew towards them in heavy wind, which was likened to a “tornado of fire”, 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.

Last words

“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.

“We were stretched because there were so many fires on Friday, so we had to call for help from the farmers. It was terrible standing at the bottom and watching this ball of fire, like a tornado, go straight for where the farmers were. There was nothing anyone could do,” said Paton.


Messages of condolences and support flooded the Facebook page set up for Bronkhorst and his family. Many messages were to wish the family strength through their ordeal, while others hailed Bronkhorst as a hero.

“Pietie, you are our hero, a legend,” read one post.

A memorial service for Bronkhorst will be held at the NG Kerk in Matatiele on Wednesday, 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 6, 4, and 3.

  • Kyle Porter - 2013-10-01 14:57

    Rest in peace brother

  • Jayson Beckwith - 2013-10-01 14:59

    Truly a sad article. Condolences to his family and friends.

      Michelle Govan - 2013-10-01 16:09

      HiJayson, Truly sad indeed. Not many people these days would make the sacrifice he did, and to top that he has 3 little kids who will miss out on having their dad around. My sincere condolences to to his family and friends.

  • Malale Eve Va - 2013-10-01 15:05

    Sad news indeed for the whole of East Griqualand.May his loved ones find their strength in the Almight.RIP...

  • Leroy Reynolds - 2013-10-01 15:29

    not a single thought for himself, what selflessness! Faith in humanity restored due to this man! Such a terrible ending to someone that added so much value!

  • Brightness Gupta - 2013-10-01 15:44

    Really really sad

  • ARTFUL DODGER. - 2013-10-01 15:46

    brave and unselfish HERO!!!! R.I.P brother.

  • Cindy Naude - 2013-10-01 16:03

    shame, this is so very sad! RIP Pietie, and hope your family finds solace in the fact that you died a Hero! :'(

  • Takalan Solomon Dzhombere - 2013-10-01 16:11

    RIP brother and you will be remember.

  • Avantika Seeth - 2013-10-01 16:56

    Really tragic way to die. RIP brave man. My heart goes out to his family and loved ones.

  • Mike Peach Purchase - 2013-10-01 17:01

    Lizzie ignore the fool.

  • Mike Peach Purchase - 2013-10-01 17:02

    Thank you Cindy i grew up with those people its been hard on them!

  • Mike Peach Purchase - 2013-10-01 17:11

    You coming for a beer with me?

  • Lucinda Rawlins - 2013-10-01 18:12

    you were an amazing man, always trying to help wherever you could, the community is at loss without you!! you changed so many children's lives and taught them the right way. we are all saddened by your passing until we meet again my friend.. ;(

      Maryna Rawlins - 2013-10-01 19:53

      What a great man, we will all miss him!!

  • Bronwyn Tredger - 2013-10-01 18:26

    I cannot undestand the thumbs down! That option should NOT be available for articles like this. There is no debate here. Condolences to the bereaved and may he RIP.

      Martin Fourie - 2013-10-02 08:47

      Bronwyn, I was thinking the same thing, all these comments are sympathetic towards this hero's family and friends. Why the thumbs down, who would do that ?

  • Koos Havenga - 2013-10-01 18:37


  • Mike Peach Purchase - 2013-10-01 18:55

    Well i got your attention didnt i because i kicked you where it hurts and you only have one anyway!We all know you as numb nut now!

      Charles Joclyne Whittal - 2013-10-01 19:21

      Haha looks like you did Mike, that must be making him think a little of what type of man he really is, cause he ain't a man he's a wimp!!!

  • Mike Peach Purchase - 2013-10-01 19:21

    Numb nut pea brain Leon i dare you to say something,there are lots of angry people after you.

  • Al Loots - 2013-10-01 20:56

    My dad got caught up in veld fire. Burnt him till he started melting. He survived. Where was government? Nowhere to be seen. Farmers have been fighting fires forever, every year some die. Where is government? At big places, eating big food talking big money. Same old BS.

  • Nangamso NaRmso Majali - 2013-10-02 07:27

    He was indeed a Hero and a father to many....he will always be in our hearts and may his soul rest in peace...he is in a much better place now

  • Henrica Veldman Shervineze - 2013-10-02 07:58

    This is really so sad!! A true hero indeed! Rest in peace dear friend. And what I cannot understand, how can anyone 'not like' the comments about R.I.P??

  • Hemlock - 2013-10-02 09:06

    A TRUE hero......RIP and condolences to family and loved ones xx

  • Mamontoeli Toeli Lebese - 2013-10-03 16:22

    Mnr Bronkhorst died as a hero and left a huge space in our hearts, hopefully his family will find closure and peace..He inspired many of our lives and we thankful for that.. He was a BRAVE man:)

  • pages:
  • 1