South Africa to send 100 firefighters to assist in firefighting efforts in Canada

South Africa has sent off 100 firefighters to assist in firefighting efforts in the province of Manitoba in Canada. The request for assistance 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 Working on Fire (WOF) to assist with their fire management in Canada. The MOU provides for the exchange of Wildland Fire Management Resources between these two countries.

This is the fourth deployment of firefighters to Canada. The last deployment was in June 2019, when Working on Fire (WOF)  sent 40 firefighters to assist with the Chuckegg Creek fire that ignited on 12 May 2019 and had burnt more than 350 134 hectares and destroyed homes.

Forest fires help in the natural cycle of woods’ growth and replenishment, however, when fires burn too hot or when they’re in the places where woodlands and homes or other developed areas meet, they can be damaging and dangerous.

The crew of 100 firefighters and a nine-person management team have been selected following a selection process which included criteria such as;

  • Physical fitness
  • A valid South African passport and yellow card
  • More than three years actual firefighting experience
  • Passing a drug test and having a clear criminal record

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

“I would like to extend my good wishes to the Working on Fire 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 the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Ms Barbara Creecy.

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.  The focus is on young people and women, with around 85% of crews comprising young people and about 30% women. 

“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,” the Minister added.

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 wildland fires expected.

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 wildland fire management resources within the country.

Prior to their departure these firefighters and management underwent refresher training in Hekpoort, Gauteng to ensure that they are fit and ready for the conditions expected in Canada. 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.

We also understand that we are currently amid our 2021 Winter Fire Season. However, as with previous deployments, we want to reassure our partners and stakeholders that this deployment will in no way have an impact on our current firefighting resources in South Africa, where the Working on Fire programme is able to call on close to 5 000 firefighters spread throughout the country.

The 109 firefighters and management are flying 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 they will undergo a Covid19 PCR Test and once they arrive in Canada, they will also be fully vaccinated.

Brand South Africa thanks the firefighters, for their selfless acts and response to Canada’s cry for help. It’s at times like these that the culture of Ubuntu in South Africa proves to be effective and beneficial worldwide. This strengthens South Africa’s global relations with other countries, yielding positive results and affirming that South Africa can be relied on to assists others in times of a crisis.