The Working on Fire (WOF) Programme’s Mzanzi2 Hotshots returned home to a hero’s welcome on 20 July 2023, after a 35-day fire suppression mission to combat wildfires in Alberta, Canada. This second contingent of 200 firefighters and 13 managers touched down on home soil at 15:21 South African time.
Responding to an urgent call from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC), the Mzanzi2 Hotshots emulated their predecessors – the Mzanzi1 Hotshots – and embarked on this mission, joining their international counterparts to confront significant wildland fire activity in Canada. They demonstrated dedication and exceptional firefighting skills while assisting Canadian authorities and the communities of Alberta, which are currently facing a devastating wildfire season. Their spirit, positivity, professionalism, and humanitarian efforts earned them widespread gratitude from both the authorities and communities they served.
Their homecoming was celebrated during a homecoming ceremony at the Kishugu Training Academy, where all in attendance appreciated their safe return and expressed immense pride in their accomplishments as they also recorded zero injuries. The contributions of the 213 WOF heroes were praised, highlighting their crucial role in their success and their ability to unite under a common vision. The ceremony also acknowledged and honoured the best performers who all had one thing in common, in that they displayed exemplary leadership skills, guiding and inspiring the team to achieve their goals.
In his address during the homecoming of the Mzanzi1 Hotshots, Chris Cooter, the High Commissioner of Canada to South Africa, delivered a message of gratitude and praise to all the WOF firefighters and managers who have been deployed and are currently deployed. “On behalf of the Canadian people, we thank you. When I look at you, I see the best of South Africa. You represent the future of South Africa.”
However, the firefighting mission is far from over. WOF’s third contingent, the Mzanzi3 Hotshots, headed for Canada on Tuesday, 18 July 2023 to bolster firefighting efforts. They landed safely in Canada on Wednesday, 19 July 2023 and this latest deployment brings the total number of WOF personnel sent to Canada to 600 firefighters and 43 managers.
These deployments highlight the critical role played by the Working on Fire Programme in South Africa and its contribution to international firefighting efforts. It also reaffirms the effectiveness of the Working on Fire – Kishugu Joint Venture’s expertise in Integrated Fire Management and that international collaboration is key to addressing the burning issue of climate change and global warming.
The Working on Fire Programme is an Expanded Public Works Programme funded by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment. It is implemented by the WOF – Kishugu Joint Venture and the Programme will be celebrating another milestone of being in existence for 20 years in September 2023.