Hundreds of military vehicles were destroyed in a fire at the South African National Defence Force’s Wallmansthal military base north of Pretoria this past week.
Volunteer firefighters from the Sinoville Firefighting Association were called to douse the fire at the outdoor storage area of the base on Thursday evening.
According to firefighters, 500 vehicles were engulfed in the blaze.
The association chairman, JP Botha, told Netwerk24 his team was at the scene just after 19:00, 15 minutes after the fire was reported.
Botha explained that putting the fire out was challenging as the area had no fire lanes, the grass was very tall in certain areas, and the vehicles were parked tightly together.
On top of that, a strong wind was blowing on the night.
The fire was so hot that one of the firefighters’ suits had started melting.
Around four hours after the volunteer firefighters started battling the blaze, the Wonderboom Fire Brigade arrived and helped to extinguish the fire by approximately 3:00 on Friday morning.
According to Netwerk24, the military contributed only a single water tanker and Land Cruiser with a water bag to the battle against the blaze.
Botha estimated that about 500 vehicles were destroyed and an area of between 5 and 10 hectares scorched.
The SANDF has claimed that only around 200 vehicles were destroyed.
In a statement, the SANDF said an assessment of the damage to property and vehicles was underway.
Fortunately, the destruction of the vehicles will have no operational impact on SANDF, explained Director at African Defence Review, Darren Olivier.
Oliver said that the outdoor storage area mostly contained out of service vehicles that have been stripped for parts or are awaiting sale or scrapping.
However, he pointed out that fire prevention measures were “clearly inadequate”.
The latest incident comes four years after a previous blaze at the same facility claimed 83 vehicles.
“This is the second time there’s been a fire in the open parking at Wallmansthal. Evidently, the lessons learned from the last one were not properly applied, and the relevant people were not held accountable,” Olivier stated.
Oliver also posted aerial shots of the outdoor storage area from 2018 to better illustrate the number of vehicles kept in the area and their condition.
Oliver added that SANDF’s operational vehicles were stored in ten humidity-controlled preservation hangars at the base that can take between 100 and 130 vehicles each.
“In total, over 900 serviceable vehicles are stored in those hangars, including Samils, Casspirs, Ratels, Rooikats, Mambas, and G6s,” he stated.
Botha told Netwerk24 the senior SANDF base officer who thanked the firefighters said that the entire base would likely have been destroyed without their assistance.
Had the hangars with operational vehicles been destroyed, the damage would likely have been in the millions, if not billions, of rand.