Working on Fire Free State combats fires as Winter Fire Season draws to a close

22 October, 2020

By Greer

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The Working on Fire (WOF) Programme, funded by the Department of Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries has had a busy 2020 Winter Fire season, with the Free State province hit the hardest, as they battled massive runaway veld fires in the latter part of the season.

Since the beginning of the Winter Fire Season, more than 170 teams, consisting of more than 4 000 firefighters, have been dispatched to fires accross the Winter Fire Season regions, namely the Eastern Cape, North West, Free State, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu Natal. These teams worked hand in glove with partners, Fire Protection Associations (FPAs), and landowners, in suppressing a total of 1 733 fires.

A total of 186 075.081 hectares were burnt, with aerial resources flying for more than 600 hours in fire suppression operations.

The Free State has been hit the hardest, recording a total of 585 fires at the end of September, and are currently battling massive fires in the Hertzogville and Hoopstad areas.

A total of 57 Working on Fire firefighters, from the Free State and North West, are assisting the Mangaung Fire Protection Association and farmers in the area, in fire suppression operations. 

At least 100 000ha have been burned, destroying farming land, properties, and livestock, among others. Mpumalanga’s Lowveld Escarpment Fire Protection Association (LEFPA), and Umphuluzi Fire Protection Association (UFPA) have offered aerial support, joining the Kishugu Aviation and Working on Fire aerial support teams, dispatched from around the country, to provide aerial firefighting.

The fire is still ongoing, with the Working on Fire Molteno and Joe Gqabi teams, totalling 23 firefighters, from the Eastern Cape, on route to the Free State, to assist in fire suppression operations.

According to the Managing Director of the Working on Fire Programme, Trevor Abrahams, the Incident Management team, consisting of a group of professional people from various departments, fire services, Working on Fire personnel, as well as the Mangaung Fire Protection Association, reported that the fire is currently under control and coordinated efforts are underway to ensure that the fire does not spread any further.

“We wish all the ground and aerial firefighters the best during this time and encourage members of the public to be safe, vigilant and careful. Our thoughts are with you all,” Abrahams said.

The North West also saw massive fires raging for days, with the Majeng fire that started on 18 October. A total of 20 Working on Fire firefighters assisted the Vaalharts Fire Protection Association in containing a fire on 20 October.

Another fire, the Amalie fire, also saw Working on Fire North West dispatch a total of 37 firefighters to assist in fighting the runaway blaze. Teams are currently conducting mop-up operations.

Working on Fire urges the community at large to be vigilant as the Winter Fire Season draws to a close. Landowners must conduct fuel load reduction exercises to remove all combustibles off of their land and ensure that low hanging trees are cut. These measures will greatly assist to protect property if you are situated near a woodland area.

Besides conducting fire suppression operations, the Working on Fire programme provides sought-after Integrated Fire Management Services (IFM), which also includes fire prevention – in the form of fuel load reduction – and Fire Awareness.

During September, the Working on Fire programme reached a milestone of having been in existence for 17 years during which time the Programme has grown to a globally renowned programme, employing over 5,000 people, encompassing WORKING ON FIRE, the High-Altitude Team (HAT), the Drought Relief Project (DRP), the Value-Added Industries (VAI) project and its recent addition, the Forestry Support Team programme.

Celebrations of this milestone were celebrated at the national and provincial levels, with various activities and events held in all eight of the provinces Working on Fire occupies its space.

Working on Fire celebrated under the theme “17 Years of Partnerships for Success”, highlighting and showcasing successful longstanding partnerships with the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, national and local government entities, public and private landowners, and Fire Protection Associations.

There are many highlights along the 17-year growth path, with the many critical interventions in major disaster fires, such as the Knysna Fires in 2017, the George fires in 2018, and the Cape Town Table Mountain fire in 2015.

In addition, Working on Fire has had successful deployments of firefighters and management to Canada, Indonesia and Chile.

The Working on Fire programme also continues to live by one of its objectives: “Restoring Dignity” to the unemployed youth. These young men and women are recruited from disadvantaged communities, into the programme. Many have gone through the ranks and now occupy management positions in Working on Fire.

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