The Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment’s Working on Fire Programme’s second contingent of firefighters and managers – the Mzanzi 2 Hotshots – left for Canada today. The 200 firefighters and 13 managers left for Edmonton, Canada, on a chartered flight from the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) at 19h00 (SA Time).
Canada is currently facing one of its most disastrous fire seasons, with wildfires raging across eight provinces and the Northwest Territories. The devastating fires can be attributed to the hot and dry weather conditions, and Alberta has been the hardest-hit province, with 640 fires damaging approximately 1,447 million hectares since March 202379 active fires are still burning. Canada has witnessed a total of 2,578 fires, with 461 active fires damaging over 5.2 million hectares of land. The province of Alberta has experienced evacuations that have affected over 30,000 people, and the extent of the damage to homes, businesses, and infrastructure has been extensive. To combat these fires, the Canadian military and the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre have mobilised additional resources.
The Mzanzi 2 Hotshots team heading to Canada will join the Mzanzi 1 Hotshots team – who were deployed on 3 June 2023 – working alongside Canadian firefighting agencies and local crews to help combat wildfires and protect affected areas. The team has received specialised training in the use of water pumps and pump lines, they meet the Canadian fitness standards, possess valid South African Yellow cards, and each firefighter has three or more years of firefighting experience.
The international community has also rallied to support Canada in its battle against the wildfires. Already present in the country are firefighters from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, France, Chile, Portugal, and France. The ongoing hot and dry weather conditions have contributed to the rapid spread of these fires, and federal fire officials warn that the situation is far from under control.
This South African crew deployment marks the fifth time that South Africa has sent firefighting resources and personnel to Canada, with previous deployments occurring in 2015, 2016, 2019, 2021, and now in 2023. The collaboration between South Africa and Canada is governed by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that allows for the exchange of wildfire firefighting resources and firefighters.
Amy Galigan, Councillor: Political and Economic Affairs: Canadian High Commission of Canada in South Africa came to visit the Mzanzi 2 Hotshots as they departed for the KMIA from the Kishugu Training Academy. In her keynote address, Galigan wished the team all the best on their journey and mission. The South African teams are expected to be deployed in the Province of Alberta for a period of 35 days.
The Working on Fire Programme, implemented by the WOF-Kishugu Joint Venture, is playing a crucial role in supporting firefighting efforts in Canada. As the most successful Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) of the South African government, WOF has trained unemployed youth to become firefighters, providing them with valuable skills and employment opportunities. The journey management system implemented by WOF allows firefighters to grow and develop within the Programme. Many former firefighters now hold management positions within Working on Fire, and 51% of the Programme’s management staff are women.