The veld fire raged through the SANDF encampment in the Northern Camp on Friday. (SA National Defence Union/ Facebook)
Six South African National Defence Force soldiers were killed and three others injured when a raging veld fire carried by strong winds ripped through an army training camp in the Northern Cape.
Firefighters were on Saturday still battling to contain the blaze which started on Friday.
SANDF Major General Rene Mercuur confirmed in a statement on Saturday that six soldiers had lost their lives while three others sustained second degree burns and were evacuated to the nearest hospital.
Mercuur said the fire had broken out at around 1.45pm on Friday at the South African Army Combat Training Centre (CTC) in Lohatla, where soldiers are currently deployed for the army exercise ‘Vukuhlome’.
“It is reported that the fire rolled over from the western border of the mine that is next to the training area in CTC,” Mercuur said.
“At the moment the focus is to contain the fire and to account for all members who were in the area when the fire occurred. The fire brigade are doing everything in their power to extinguish the fire which has resulted in destroying camping equipment and vehicles.
“The South African army is currently assessing the situation on the ground and further information regarding this incident will be communicated in due course as the investigation is still underway.”
According to an earlier statement by the SANDF, the veld fire had swept through the camp at a wind speed of 70km per hour.
The Northern Cape spokesperson for the department of cooperative governance, human settlements and traditional affairs, Tshenolo Meruti-Sebolai, said the fire had spread from Kathu in the Gamagara local municipality to Lohatla.
“The Northern Cape Provincial Disaster Management Centre Unit has escalated the matter to the head of the National Disaster Management Centre for their intervention. In most cases the South African National Defence Force activate their own choppers to extinguish the fire,” she said.
Meruti-Sebolai said fire protection services were working closely with the army.
“Should SANDF require additional assistance it will be done through the provincial joint intelligence structure which will then escalate it to the national joint intelligence structure for directive on the deployment of additional support. We have sadly learned of casualties and several injured,” she said.