Sixteen years ago, a young Johan Botha was on the frontline as a devastating inferno ravaged thousands of hectares of farmlands and vineyards in the Simonsberg area.
“Today is like déjà vu,” the seasoned firefighter told News24 at the end of a gruelling 24-hour shift.
He has remained at the operations centre set up at Delvera Estate in Stellenbosch in case he is needed to assist on the third day since the inferno broke out.
“I saw the devastation the fire caused all those years ago. I want to do all I can to not see that happen again.”
Botha, from Bothasig, has been chasing flames for the past 36 years.
“It’s anything but easy to do. Fighting a fire is not simple – it’s like taming a beast,” he explained.
“The flames are unpredictable and containing them is one hell of a mission. But beating them gives you an exhilaration you can’t describe.”
Botha, 55, greeted a group of firefighters who had arrived for a shift with handshakes and pleasantries.
“Is julle reg, manne [are you ready, guys]?” he asked them with a pat on the shoulder for each.
“Ja, definitief,” [yes, definitely] they replied with confidence.
Working a full day is exhausting, he admitted, and facing flames during a heatwave makes their task even more difficult.
‘THE PUBLIC IS COUNTING ON US’
“But it’s amazing what a joke or two among the guys can do. A minute’s laughter can give you an instant boost. And we constantly encourage each other. We know what we are required to do and we do it. The public is counting on us.”
The satisfaction of extinguishing a fire before it caused enormous damage was what he enjoyed most about his job.
“But watching helplessly as a fire rages, knowing there is little you can do to stop it is devastating. Seeing people cry because they lost everything… It breaks your heart.”
As he waited for the call to summon him back on duty, Botha said becoming a fireman was one of the best decisions he had ever made.
“We are people with passion. The public trusts us to protect them and that’s what we do. We deliver, no matter what.” News24