PICS: Family who almost lost farm in Garden Route blaze to rename boat after 'hero pilot'

2018-10-24 21:33
Stayci Anderson with her dad Pierre du Plessis, on the river at their farm. (Supplied)

Stayci Anderson with her dad Pierre du Plessis, on the river at their farm. (Supplied)

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A family who has spent sleepless nights worrying about their farm in fire-stricken Vermaaklikheid say that if it wasn't for the efforts of helicopter pilot Nico Heyns and others, the blaze would have done a lot more damage.

An emotional Stayci Anderson said on Wednesday morning that their hearts were broken after hearing that Heyns, 65, was killed when his helicopter went down during firefighting efforts in the Vermaaklikheid area on Tuesday morning.

"These helicopter pilots literally put themselves in danger for people they don't know," she said.

READ: Pilot who died in crash came back from leave to help fight Garden Route fire

"Our farm wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him."

Anderson, 33, is based in Cape Town but her father Pierre du Plessis and stepmother live on the farm about three and a half hours away.

She spoke to News24 because Du Plessis was busy with the fire and his phone went straight to voicemail.

'An absolute trooper'

The farm, next to the Duiwenhoks River, has been in their family for centuries and their historical Haartebees farm house is rented out to holidaymakers looking for a quiet escape.

But the tranquillity was shattered when her dad got hold of her a few days ago to let her know there was a fire down by the river and it had already taken a few houses.

He sent her a photo of thick smoke billowing above the lush green hills in the distance.

Du Plessis did not hesitate to jump into action.

"He is an absolute trooper," Anderson said. "He is basically the maintenance guy for Vermaaklikheid, knows everyone, does everything, and wouldn't hesitate to take the shirt off his back for someone else.

Vermaaklikheid
The Vermaalikheid valley filled with smoke. (Supplied)

"He hopped onto a neighbour's boat to see if they could help but everything was too far gone."

The wind soon changed direction and the fire jumped the river.

"By the time they got back, the fire was on the border of the farm."

Firefighters doing their best

The family doused the buildings and land with water and did their best to put up a fire break, before deciding to evacuate.

A helpless Anderson cried when her dad sent her a photo of a trailer packed with their belongings, sitting on the road to their farm, with the orange glow of flames clearly visible above the vegetation. 

Vermaaklikheid
A trailer sitting at the road to Da Laafing Lion farm in Vermaalikheid, ready for evacuation. (Supplied)

"The flames were higher than the windmill on the property. I could hear the crackling on the phone while speaking to my stepmother."

Meanwhile, teams of firefighters from various organisations were doing their best to battle the flames on the eastern and western flank of Duiwenhoks River.

When her dad told her they might lose their house on Tuesday, she got in touch with the local firefighting team and help soon arrived.

"As far as I know, everything is fine," said Anderson, who did not get any sleep on Tuesday night.

ALSO READ: This is the 'hero pilot' who died while fighting the Garden Route blaze

Donation drive 

Eight structures have been destroyed in the blaze, according to the George Municipality.

Large areas of sustainable harvest Fynbos and wildlife grazing were lost and there were significant damages to fences.

The municipality said the fire was about 60% contained and good work was done overnight.

Vermaaklikheid
What is left of a neighbour's thatch home. (Supplied)

Anderson said the only thing they lost in the fire was a river cruiser boat, which her dad had built by hand.

"We want to honour the pilot by renaming the boat after him. In my eyes he is a hero," she said.

"You can rebuild a boat but you can't rebuild a life."

Anderson and her sister have set up drop-off points for anyone wanting to donate clothes, food, water, toiletries, blankets and other items to those who lost everything in the fire.

The drop-off points are in Table View, at the Hair Emporium at 82 Briza Road, and the Pizza Palazzo in the Merlot shopping centre.


Read more on:    nico heyns  |  cape town  |  fires

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