A grass fire spilt over into the perimeter of Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport and seriously damaged two aircraft on Monday before firefighters eventually managed to put the fire out.
In a statement, the airport said it was forced to close one of its two runways on Monday after a fire “spilled over from the adjacent community within the airport precinct”.
The fire occurred on runway 21L/03R which is furthest away from the airport’s main terminal buildings but is surrounded by a veld – which is a common type of wide open rural landscape that can be found across South Africa.
Velds are typically covered in grass and trees and after a long dry winter is now tinder box dry.
Officials for the airport, which is the busiest in South Africa and Africa’s second busiest airport after Cairo, said firefighters had been deployed to handle the blaze and flights were continuing to operate as scheduled.
Local lawmakers criticised the airport, however, saying the way the fire had been handled raised important safety issues. Firefighters were unable to respond fast enough to prevent two aircraft that had been parked on the outskirts of the airport perimeter from being damaged by flames.
The runway was reopened after around four hours, and the airport said safety teams would continue to carefully monitor the situation.