Cape Winelands District Municipality ready for any fire
The Cape Winelands District Municipality’s Fire Services, together with partners Cape Nature, the Winelands Fire Protection Association, NCC, Henley Air, the Western Cape Government’s Disaster, Fire and Rescue Management and the local municipalities, hosted the annual fire season preparedness meeting in Paarl at the end of November 2022. The Executive Mayor, Ald (Dr) Elna von Schlicht, opened the meeting by stating that the CWDM’s Fire Services is a world-class team, supported by partners who are the best at what they do. “I always feel safe when I know that the fire services are on the scene of a fire and I always keep you in my prayers.”
The various partners shared their respective resources and strategies that are in place to ensure that they are ready for what is predicted to be a busy fire season.
“We are requesting citizens and visitors to our area to be fire aware, to not make fires outside of designated areas and, on very hot days when the temperature reaches 35 degrees Celsius or more, to please refrain from braaiing, even if there are facilities at outdoor social areas. Coals can be reignited by a breeze, which in turn causes fires in surrounding brush and then turns into a wildfire,” advises the Chief Fire Officer, CFO Wayne Josias.
The Cape Winelands District Municipality has 80 fulltime fire fighters who work 12-hour shifts to ensure a 24/7/365 service. During fire season, an additional 50 fully trained reservists are appointed to assist the permanent force. The service attends to an average of 1 300 fires per fire season and requires a budget of around R70 million/annum.
The Cape Winelands District Municipality Fire Services and partners have expressed concern that open ground bordering farms, informal settlements and estates are sometimes poorly maintained by owners and for several reasons present definite fire risks. Wildland and veld are often overgrown with dense alien vegetation which already provides a high fuel load; this is often exacerbated by litter and illegal dumping, which in the event of a fire, such as the one experienced in Paarl earlier this year, makes it difficult for fire fighting crews to access. It is the responsibility of land and property owners to keep their open veld and property clean and clear of dead and alien vegetation.
CapeNature warned that although a number of vulnerable mountain areas have burned in the last few years, thus reducing the fuel load, there are still large areas of indigenous fauna that would be at risk in the event of a fire. While it is true that indigenous fauna, specifically the proteas are a fire driven ecology, in other words, they require fire to release seeds so that these can germinate; proteas need to be between 12 and 15 years old before they are exposed to fire. When a veld fire occurs in an area where there is a lot of young or immature growth, the fire kills the plants before they have had a chance to develop viable seeds. Furthermore, this is aggravated when the ground is very dry, as the fire also then burns the seeds that may be just under the ground, waiting for perfect conditions to allow germination. If there is a fire in an area of mature trees, it can sometimes be left to burn to encourage renewal.
The team from NCC told the guests about the various training that has been undertaken during the last year to ensure that their crews are ready for the season. Ground teams need to be particularly fit as they often hike several kilometres up a mountain to get to the fireline. They also need to carry their full kits, all the food and water they will require for the 24-hour shift and their equipment.
The Winelands FPA are the agents for the CWDM in respect of the issuing of controlled burn permits, clearing of firebreaks and serve as the link between landowners and fire services. They support their members by assisting with fire proofing property and crops through various interventions. The FPA together with insurance companies, have recently added a further two helicopters to the pool of resources. These air support vehicles will be stationed in Stellenbosch and can be deployed at the request of the landowner during a fire to protect crops and infrastructure from a fire.
Western Cape’s Disaster Management, Fire and Rescue Services explained how they support fire crews across the province. They have access to several resources including air support that they can deploy.
Henley Air is the company contracted by the CWDM to provide air support. They have an established rural helicopter base that allows them speedy access to all points in the district. The company is further equipped with their own fuel tankers to offer support to the two Huey’s, which are used for water bombing and surveillance helicopters. Due to their location, they are able to provide services in a very short period of time thus preventing further spreading of the fire.
The meeting culminated in a wonderful exhibition of vehicles and equipment but by far the highlight was the captivating demonstration by the ground teams and air support.
Photos: CWDM’s Executive Mayor and various partners
Photos showing the demonstration of team work by Henley Air and NCC
Source: Jo-Anne Otto, deputy director: Communication Services, Cape Winelands District Municipality