Western Cape 2019/2020 wildfire season launched
The Western Cape Government, in partnership with South African National Parks (SANParks), Western Cape Umbrella Fire Protection Association (WCUFPA), Working on Fire (WoF) and Cape Nature held the launch of its 2019/2020 wildfire season on 2 December 2019 at Lourensford Wine Estate in Helderberg.
The event was attended by several dignitaries, stakeholders and fire chiefs with Etienne du Toit, deputy director of Fire Brigade Services for the Western Cape Government as programme director, welcoming all, saying that the event was a show of readiness and preparedness for the upcoming wildfire season and only showcases their equipment but not their response to major wildfires. “We actively follow an integrated fire management approach,” said Du Toit. A moment of silence was observed for lives lost in past incidents and for those facing major future incidents. Du Toit also welcomed City of Cape Town’s Willie Olivier to the event, who had just been released from hospital after major surgery.
Graham Paulse, the head of department for the Western Cape Department: Local Government, said in his opening address that “it is all systems go for the upcoming fire season. The department is following a proactive response and we deploy a rapid response to wildfires with aerial support and specialised ground teams on standby for major incidents. We have ramped our resources for a quick response in the shortest time possible. Our aim is to gain control in the first hour. During high FDI days, we are ready to deploy the maximum resources available to save lives and property. The upcoming season’s weather predictions are a bit ominous with hot and dry conditions predicted and the past severe drought leaving the veld extremely dry. Partnerships are very important, especially with the local and district municipalities and province as well as other stakeholders such as SANParks, fire protection associations and volunteer services such as Volunteer Wildfire Services (VWS) etc. Our approach emphasises prevention and we request home owners to take responsibility, especially those in the wildland-urban-interface (WUI)”, said Paulse.
Dr Moses Khangale, senior manager: Fire Services Coordination at the National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC), spoke on behalf of Dr Mmaphaka Tau, head of the NDMC saying that more attention need to be placed on the WUI, referring to the recent Knysna Fires Report. “Past experience shows us that municipal by-laws need to include wildfire preparedness and that provincial disaster management centres (PDMCs) must be able to deal with complex incidents. The Knysna Fires taught us that we need to have clear evacuation plans to minimise loss of life,” said Dr Khangale. He also highlighted the importance of MOUs between municipalities and FPAs and the use of indigenous knowledge of the areas. “Early warning systems are highly effective when the information reach residents timeously,” he added. He also commended Colin Deiner for his dedication and work done and said that the risk faced requires all stakeholders to collaborate and work together.
Colin Deiner, chief director: Disaster Management and Fire/Rescue Services for the Western Cape Government and head of the PDMC started his address by quoting Winston Churchill, ““We shall not fail or falter. We shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools and we will finish the job”. Deiner expressed his concerns about the high cost of dealing with fires and about resources getting less. He said that the province will put a focus on the alien invasive species, saying that although there are a number of projects in the province that deal with invasives, there is a lot of overlapping and that province will be playing a strong coordinating role in order to manage the invasives and keep costs down. He mentioned that their current integrated fire management system has been built over the past 10 years and added his concerns about the future of Working on Fire and the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) restructuring. “Another point for concern is early warning systems” said Deiner. “We rely heavily on the South Africa Weather Service (SAWS) and AFIS but they are also facing challenges. Deiner commended Fire and Rescue International for the active role we play keeping industry informed.
The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) and Working on Fire representative said that there was no need for panic as the WoF contract is ending in 2021 but that WoFs success in teaching youngsters how they can grow and succeed will ensure continuity. “We are ready for this fire season”, he added. WoF is key in ensuring that the public and communities are aware of the risks of fire on a national level and teaching communities how to be safe.
A demonstration followed showing the capabilities of the stakeholders with aerial support and ground teams working together.
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