File picture: Working On Fire
File picture: Working On Fire

SA crew battling Canadian wildfires flying the flag high – Barbara Creecy

By Jonisayi Maromo Time of article published Aug 11, 2021

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Pretoria – South Africa has deployed a contingent of more than 100 firefighters, under the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment’s Working on Fire programme to the Canadian province of Manitoba, to assist with firefighting efforts in the world's second biggest country by landmass.

The departure of 109 firefighters and management on Tuesday evening was the fourth mission to Canada.

“I would like to extend my good wishes to the Working on Fire (WOF) team as you embark on your fourth deployment to Canada to assist in bringing the fires currently raging across Manitoba under control.

’’I trust that as in the past, you will fly South Africa’s flag high and that your camaraderie will stand you in good stead as you battle alongside colleagues from other Canadian provinces and cities to save lives and homes,” said Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Barbara Creecy.

The Working on Fire programme is administered through the government's Extended Public Works Programme. It provides work opportunities, skills training and personal development to communities across the country. The focus is on young people and women, with around 85 percent of crews comprising young people and about 30 percent women.

Creecy said the request for South Africa to assist came from the Canadian Inter-agency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC), which has, in terms of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Canada and South Africa, asked for firefighting assistance from WOF to assist with their fire management in Canada. The MOU provides for the exchange of Wildland Fire Management Resources between these two countries.

The crew of 100 firefighters and a nine-person management team which departed on Tuesday was selected following a process which included criteria such as physical fitness, having a valid yellow card, more than three years firefighting experience, a valid South African passport, and additional criteria such as passing a drug test and having a clear criminal record.

Of the selected firefighters, 30 are women and 35 have previous deployment experience to Canada and will be deployed for a period of 34 days.

“Your commitment will serve as an example to members of the Working on Fire team who will be on standby to battle any wildfires that may break out here in South Africa as we near the end of our winter season,” said Creecy.

Canada has been experiencing record-breaking heat and associated dry weather. Large wildland fires are currently burning in the province of Manitoba and extreme fire danger exists across the western provinces with little relief in sight and new wild land fires expected.

South Africa’s Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment said a drier than normal spring has contributed to drought conditions persisting across much of western Canada. Due to the number of provinces experiencing high fire dangers, Canada is close to exhausting available wild land fire management resources within the country.

Prior to their departure, the South African team of firefighters and their management underwent refresher training in Hekpoort, Gauteng “to ensure that they are fit and ready for the conditions expected in Canada”.

The refresher training included map reading, power pumps usage, fire line safety, helicopter safety as well as extensive pre-deployment training on the type of conditions that they can expect in Canada, including the different types of dangerous animals expected.

The South African crew flew to Canada on a British Airways chartered flight which has been arranged by the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre and they will fly to Winnipeg, Canada via London.

Prior to their departure, the South Africa crew underwent a Covid-19 test and once they arrive in Canada, the team will be fully vaccinated.

African News Agency (ANA)

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