A team of 100 firefighters will leave for Canada on Tuesday night as part of the department of forestry, fisheries and the environment’s Working on Fire programme.
They are being deployed to assist with firefighting efforts to bring the fires raging across Manitoba under control.
Forestry, fisheries and the environment minister Barbara Creecy has sent a message of support to the team, telling them: “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.”
The Working on Fire programme is administered through the Extended Public Works Programme. It provides work opportunities, skills training and personal development to communities across the country, focusing on targets of 85% young people and 30% women.
This latest deployment is in response to a request for assistance from the Canadian Inter-agency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) in terms of a working agreement between SA and Canada that provides for the exchange of wildland fire management resources.
The crew of 100 firefighters will be joined by a nine-person management team.
Selection was based on physical fitness, those with a valid yellow card and more than three years’ actual firefighting experience, a valid South African passport as well as passing a drug screening test and having a clear criminal record.
Those who made the cut were required to undergo refresher training in Hekpoort, Gauteng, to ensure that they are fit and ready for Canadian conditions. This included map reading, power pumps usage, fireline safety and pre-deployment training on the conditions they can expect in Canada, and the different types of dangerous animals they could encounter.
The firefighters — 30 of whom are women — will be gone for 34 days.
Creecy said members of the Working on Fire team who had not been selected for the Canada trip would remain on standby to battle wildfires that could break out in SA as winter comes to an end.
Canada has been experiencing record-breaking heat and associated dry weather. Large wildland fires are burning in Manitoba province and extreme fire danger exists across other western provinces where more wildland fires are expected.
SA’s Working on Fire programme is able to call on close to 5,000 firefighters spread throughout the country.
The team will leave for Canada on Tuesday night on a British Airways chartered flight arranged by the CIFFC. They will fly via London to Winnipeg in Canada where they will undergo a Covid-19 PCR test on arrival.
by Gill Gifford