'R13.8m budget for aerial firefighting and ground support means we’re fire-ready for summer'

Western Cape firefighters show off their readiness for the upcoming fire season at the demonstration. l ARMAND HOUGH/AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY (ANA)

Western Cape firefighters show off their readiness for the upcoming fire season at the demonstration. l ARMAND HOUGH/AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY (ANA)

Published Dec 9, 2022


Cape Town - Fire season officially arrived in the Cape with soaring temperatures and load shedding-related fire incidents already rife.

The Western Cape Government (WCG), with its private sector and volunteer partners, hosted a fire readiness event at the Stellenbosch Airstrip on Thursday to showcase their preparedness for the harsh fires expected this year.

Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning MEC Anton Bredell said: “The 2022/23 summer season is anticipated to be challenging with hot, dry, and windy conditions expected across the province. With veld conditions being extremely dry, we have our work cut out for us.

“Balancing the safety and wellbeing of humans together with that of nature can be difficult. But it is not impossible.”

Aerial firefighting and ground support received R13.8 million this year in the provincial budget and WCG has a three-year tender with Kishugu aviation which provides access to aerial resources during the peak fire season.

It also has a three-year tender with NCC environmental services for the provision of specialised ground support.

“Aerial resources for this season includes 20 aircraft from the Western Cape Disaster Management Centre, made up of eight spotter planes, four fixed-wing bombers and eight Huey helicopters,” Bredell said.

Table Mountain National Parks (TMNP) fire manager Philip Prins said they were working closely with the City to mitigate all fires in the park this season. Prins said collaborations were critical to fight fires, especially with the increasing cost of aerial resources.

“The average price we pay to keep a Huey helicopter in the air now is about R43 000 an hour. Image the cost of keeping three Hueys in the air for an eight-hour operation. We’ll have to start working more closely together.”

Authorities presented a demonstration to show the Western Cape fire readiness for the upcoming fire season at the Stellenbosch Flying Club. Aerial firefighters and ground crews presented their approach to fire fighting and prevention. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

TMNP’s first fire was in October, the Fountain Ravine fire on Table Mountain, and it has since escalated.

Working On Fire managing director Trevor Abrahams said: “We have already attended to 22 fires in November and another 11 just in December. With climate change, fire seasons are getting more intense and more spread out, they are even happening outside of the fire season.

“What is predicted internationally is that disaster fires are going to become more intense and frequent.”

The readiness event was preceded by a blaze at an office building in Montague Gardens, Cape Town.

City Fire and Rescue Services spokesperson Jermaine Carelse said about 70 firefighters, with 15 firefighting appliances, controlled the blaze on Thursday morning, and the fire was brought under control. No injuries were reported and the cause of the fire was unknown.