Cape firefighters get ready for battle as fire season approaches

Cape firefighters get ready for battle as fire season approaches

Out of control fires have raged across large areas of the Cape coastline in the Betty's Bay region since New Year. January 12, 2019 Photo: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

14,500 wildfires were recorded across the province in the year to end-March this year, with over forty deaths recorded since October 2018.

The Western Cape festive season is notorious for its unrelenting fires and as that time of the year fast approaches, Cape Town firefighters are gearing up for another period of sustained blazes.

On Tuesday, several firefighting crews in the Western Cape, including the Table Mountain fire management team, Working on Fire, Disaster Management and the US Embassy 109th airlift wing of the New York Air National Guard gave a brief demonstration on how a typical firefighting operation is conducted at the Newlands firebase.

To put into perspective, 14,500 wildfires were recorded across the province in the year to end-March this year, with over forty deaths recorded since October 2018.

Philip Prins of Table Mountain’s fire management team said their target was always to make sure that fires were put out within 90 minutes, raising the importance of the first-responders.

And so, when the siren went off and make-believe smoke started flaming, the firefighters set off to their order of business.

There has also been a collaboration between firefighters in South Africa and the United States, as Consul General of the United States in Cape Town, Virginia Blaser explained that one of the best examples of this collaboration was when South African firefighters went to the US “during the last series of devastating fires and served there, protecting American lives and property, based partly off of the training done here [in South Africa]”.

Spokesperson for Working on Fire Linton Rensburg said many of their firefighters have been to the US to learn how the US Forest Service responds to national disasters.

According to Rensburg, climate change with regards to wildfires has become an international problem and that is why this collaboration was important.

Chris Meyer from the 109th Airlift Wing of the New York National Guard – a firefighter for the past twelve years – said the collaboration, which began last year, has been “an outstanding experience”.

“We are able to give some of our skills to the South African firefighters and learn how they fight fires here which is different because of the landscape and agriculture,” said Meyer.

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