Working on Fire aerial and ground resources played a crucial role in fighting and suppressing 110 fires during the 2022-’23 veld and forest summer fire season in the Western Cape.
With the summer fire season having come to an end, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment’s Working on Fire Programme has relocated its 21 aerial resources to the Northern provinces in preparation for the Winter Fire season.
On Sunday 7 May, the last three spotter planes and an Air-Tractor Bomber departed from the Stellenbosch Airfield to Mpumalanga and Limpopo.
According to a Working on Fire media statement, starting from November last year, the aerial resources – including spotter planes, Huey choppers, and air tractor bombers – spent a total of 647 hours assisting municipalities, nature conservation agencies, fire protection associations, and landowners in the Western Cape.
“They engaged in activities such as water bombing and stopping rapidly spreading flames, contributing significantly to bringing the fires under control. The aerial resources conducted over 3 500 water drops, allowing ground crews to safely attack the blazes,” says Limakatso Khalianyane, provincial communications officer: Working on Fire.
Chief pilot Matthew Carter noted that the province had a successful season, with increased activity in the first few months that gradually diminished towards the end. As the weather became wetter, the need for aerial operations decreased, making it more advantageous to avoid flying.
The summer fire season began earlier than expected in November, with Working on Fire resources battling 22 fires.
However, during the last two months (March and April), they were only called to assist in three fires.
“Typically, these months are busy due to hot temperatures. With the reduced fire incidents, the teams were able to focus on assisting partners with various manual fuel reduction efforts, including prescribed burns and block burns.
These activities aim to destroy vegetation that has not burned in a while, reducing fire intensity in case of runaway fires and mitigating risks to life and property near the urban areas. Additionally, some burns were conducted to restore and improve ecological biodiversity,” says Khalianyane.
Following their five months of daily duty, the firefighters will take turns to rest.
“However, they will continue providing integrated fire management services, such as educating schools and communities about fire safety and supporting partners with activities like constructing fire breaks, manual fuel reduction, and controlled burns where necessary,” adds Khalianyane.
Antoniette Jini, Working on Fire Western Cape’s general manager, expressed gratitude to various partners for their trust in the Working on Fire resources, which have helped save lives and protect properties from fires.
Despite the conclusion of the veld and forest fire season, Jini emphasised the need for continued vigilance during the upcoming winter fire season, which primarily affects structures and communities.
She urged residents to avoid activities that may cause fires.