An additional 200 South African firefighters will on Wednesday fly to Canada to assist with extinguishing raging fires that have displayed thousands of people in the province of Alberta.
More than a week ago, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment sent 200 firefighters and 15 managers to the same country in what is estimated to be a scorching season for Canadians, with more than 3 million hectares reportedly destroyed.
Wildfires have broken out in parts of Canada, causing smoke which blanked US airspace and triggered health alerts, travel disruptions and partial school closures in cities such as the capital Washington.
“The department’s Working on Fire programme is deploying a second contingent of 200 firefighters and 13 managers – Mzansi Hotshots 2. This follows the deployment of 200 firefighters and 15 managers on 3 June.
“Mzansi Hotshots 2 will leave for Edmonton, Canada, on Wednesday 14 June from the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport at 12 noon. The deployment of both teams comes in response to an urgent request from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre,” said the department’s acting chief director of communication, Peter Mbelengwa.
Mbelengwa said South Africa was sending assistance in line with a 2019 memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between the two countries.
“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.
“The MoU 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,” he said. “The 2023 deployment is the fifth collaboration between South Africa and Canada in terms of the exchange of personnel. The 2023 Canadian deployment teams comprise highly qualified firefighters, with a minimum of three years of firefighting experience, and are trained in Canadian pump operation techniques.”
Minister of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment, Barbara Creecy, wished the experienced team well on their journey.
“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 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 Creecy.
Working on Fire’s stakeholder relations manager, Linton Rensburg, said they are happy to mobilise “such qualified and diverse teams to bolster Canada’s firefighting efforts.”
“The extensive experience and training of these firefighters will significantly contribute to the effective suppression and management of wildfires in Alberta, ultimately helping to protect lives, properties, and the environment,” Rensburg said.