SA firefighters deployed to Canada

South Africa and Canada signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2019 to exchange wildland fire management resources.

Working on Fire, a programme of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment (DFFE), has deployed a team of more than 200 firefighters and management from the Free State and other provinces to the Canadian province of Alberta to assist with firefighting and suppression efforts.

According to DFFE acting chief director of communication Peter Mbelengwa, this will be the fifth deployment by a Working on Fire team to Canada.

“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,” said the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment, Barbara Creecy.

The Canadian Inter-agency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) requested immediate assistance by the existing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Canada and South Africa.

According to Mbelengwa, this season, Alberta has already seen over 550 wildfires, causing substantial damage to property and infrastructure and displacing thousands of people. In numerous regions, evacuation orders have been issued.

“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 2023 Canadian deployment team comprises pump-trained firefighters, who have a valid Yellow Card; more than three years of actual firefighting experience, and who are physically fit.

“Twenty-five percent of the selected firefighters in the first deployment are women. This includes two members of the management team and highlights Working on Fire’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.”

A number of the team members have previous international firefighting experience, which further enhances their expertise in tackling complex fire situations.

“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,” said the minister.

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