Former South African Air Force (SAAF) pilot Willem “Bees” Marais died in a helicopter crash on Sunday while battling a fire at Cape Point.
“Bees, as he was affectionately known by friends and family alike, played a vital role in suppressing the fire that has burnt across the Table Mountain National Park during the course of this week,” SANParks board chairperson Kuseni Dlamini said in a statement on Sunday.
“His vast knowledge, experience and skill as a helicopter pilot was respected by all.”
Marais’ helicopter crashed while fighting a blaze at the Cape Point Nature Reserve on Sunday.
Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa sent condolences to pilot Willem “Bees” Marais’ family following his death on Sunday.
“I wish to express the government’s and my personal condolences to the pilot’s wife, Mrs Jackie Marais, family, friends and his colleagues in the Working on Fire programme,” Molewa said in a statement.
A friend of his from his SAAF days, Mariette Hopley, described him as always having a smile on his face.
“Very calm and friendly, always a smile and time for colleagues and people around him. He was loved by all,” Hopley told City Press.
“He excelled as an aviator and taught and shared his knowledge and expertise with many other pilots. He was a special soul and mentor.”
Meanwhile, city councillor JP Smith said arsonists are suspected to be behind flare-ups that started at Scarborough on the South Peninsula late on Saturday. The city has called in the services of one of South Africa’s leading forensic investigators, Dr David Klatzow, to look into how the fires originated.
Richard Bosman, executive director for safety and security, said: “These are two new fires. We received a call from a Fish Hoek fire volunteer. The helicopter will water-bomb the area until 19:20 and the fire-fighters will have to stay overnight”.
The fight against the fire continues while condolences for Marais’ family pours in.
Marais also worked for Air Mercy Service, a non-profit organisation that provides emergency air ambulance and rural health outreach programmes across South Africa.
“RIP Oom Bees. What a legend!” tweeted fellow air medical worker, Farhaad Haffejee.
Family, friends and Colleagues of Willem Marais are invited to share their memories and tributes, and to light a candle for him at Remembered.
Strong winds fan the blaze
At least 500 people had been evacuated since the fire began in Muizenberg.
The fire started last Sunday and was contained, but flared up again just after on Monday in Muizenberg above Boyes Drive. It was fanned by strong winds, and spread to Ou Kaapse Weg, Chapman’s Peak, Hout Bay, and Tokai.
One city fire-fighter sustained burn wounds and 52 frail-care residents from a Noordhoek retirement village were treated for smoke inhalation.
More than 2000 people were helping to quell the fire during the week, the environmental affairs department said at the time.
Working on Fire (WoF)
Working on Fire (WoF) fire fighters are recruited from marginalised communities and trained in fire awareness and education, prevention and fire suppression skills. These young men and women form veld and forest fire fighting ground crews, stationed at bases around the country to help stop the scourge of wildfire, which costs the South African economy billions of rands annually.
Kishugu implements the WoF programme on behalf of government.
“The current global negotiations on mitigating the effects of climate change have a distinct relationship to the threat of uncontrolled veld fires,” said Trevor Abrahams, Executive Chairman at Kishugu. “By all accounts, global warming increases the risk of devastating veld fires.”