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South African firefighters deployed to Canada to combat wildfires

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In a remarkable show of international co-operation, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment’s Working on Fire programme is deploying a team of more than 200 firefighters and management to the Canadian province of Alberta to assist with firefighting and fire suppression efforts.

This will be the fifth deployment by a Working on Fire team to Canada. Picture: Supplied

By Hasina Kathrada

JOHANNESBURG – In a remarkable show of international co-operation, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment’s Working on Fire programme is deploying a team of more than 200 firefighters and management to the Canadian province of Alberta to assist with firefighting and fire suppression efforts.

This will be the fifth deployment by a Working on Fire team to Canada.

The Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy, wished the team well: “I would like to extend my best wishes to the team as you embark on your deployment to Canada to help put out the fires raging in Alberta. You go to Canada to raise the South African flag and share your expertise and camaraderie with colleagues from other Canadian provinces to save lives, homes, businesses, and large swathes of vegetation.

“We are proud of the fact that South Africa is again able to assist Canadian firefighting teams in their battle to bring the wildfires under control. The extensive experience and training of these firefighters will significantly enhance efforts to effectively suppress and manage the wildfires in Alberta.”

The request for assistance came from the Canadian Inter-agency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) in terms of the existing memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Canada and South Africa.

South African firefighters are on their way to assist in suppressing fires in Canada. Picture: Supplied

The MOU signed in 2019 provides for the exchange of wildland fire management resources between South Africa and Canada. It was put in place following two earlier deployments to Canada to suppress wildfires in Alberta and Manitoba.

The first deployment of 200 firefighters and 15 managers departed on a chartered aircraft from Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) on Saturday. The deployment will see the team assist firefighters in Canada for 35 days. A second team of 200 firefighters and 13 managers will join the crew in Alberta in a week’s time.

Alberta has already experienced more than 550 wildfires this season resulting in significant damage to property and infrastructure, and displacing thousands of people. Evacuation orders have been put in place in many areas.

WoF’s managing director Trevor Abrahams, who is part of the 15-member management team on the way to Alberta, said the 2023 Canadian deployment team comprised pump trained firefighters, along with firefighters possessing valid Yellow Cards and a minimum of three years of firefighting experience.

“Notably, the team boasts an impressive 25% representation of women, with two female members serving in our management team. This diversity and inclusion highlight Working On Fire’s unwavering commitment to fostering equality in the field. Additionally, several team members bring with them invaluable international firefighting experience,” said Abrahams.

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