A helicopter tackles a wildfire in East Gippsland, Victoria state, Australia. Wildfires burning across Australia's two most-populous states trapped residents of a seaside town in apocalyptic conditions Tuesday, Dec. 31, and were feared to have destroyed many properties and caused fatalities. Photo: State Government of Victoria via AP.
A helicopter tackles a wildfire in East Gippsland, Victoria state, Australia. Wildfires burning across Australia's two most-populous states trapped residents of a seaside town in apocalyptic conditions Tuesday, Dec. 31, and were feared to have destroyed many properties and caused fatalities. Photo: State Government of Victoria via AP.

Western Cape government offers to assist Australian wildfire crisis

By Mwangi Githahu Time of article published Jan 8, 2020

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Cape Town -  The Western Cape Government has offered its assistance Australia in relation to the ongoing wildfires that have hit that country.

Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning MEC Anton Bredell said, “The world has been shocked by the severity of the ongoing fires in Australia and we believe where we can make a difference, we should certainly try to do so.”

Bredell said: “The province is prone to severe wildfires and the provincial Disaster Management Centre has tackled thousands of fires across the province in recent years. We combat on average 12,000 wildfires per year and while these are not near the scale of the fires seen in Australia, some have been quite severe.”

“Over the past ten years we have built up a highly experienced network of firefighters. Some of these crews have been deployed to assist other countries with wildfires in the past. Our initial offer to the Australians included a firefighting team of approximately forty highly experienced, wildland firefighters and a command element, with the possibility of expanding on this if required,” said Bredell.

Bredell said the offer was well received but immediate assistance was not needed at the moment.

Meanwhile, advanced preparation and having resources in reserve is probably the most effective way to tackle a situation such as the current Australian bushfire crisis.

Drakenstein Fire Watch puts out a fire. Picture: Supplied
Paarl firefighter Daan van Leeuwen Boomkamp, who leads the volunteer firefighter group of the Drakenstein Farm Watch (DFW), said the Australian fire crisis “all started as a small fire but it was unfortunately not addressed in time.”

Boomkamp said: “In Paarl and Wellington we have several firefighting entities looking after the safety of people and property. As a result of the big fires in 2017 and 2018, we learnt many lessons.”

Talking about recent fires in the Drakenstein Municipality, Boomkamp said: “Over the last few days, the DFW volunteers have managed to suppress a number of start-up fires, though in some cases the fires have been guided and left to burn out, without danger.”

“A fire start-up normally multiplies every 30 seconds, so in two minutes the fire has grown eight-fold, but in three minutes already 32-fold. That is why it is necessary to be on hand as soon as possible with water to put out the fire,” said Boomkamp.

The DFW firefighter group has access to three fire trucks that between them carry a total of 14700 litres of water. They also have 10700 litre SUV 4x4 response vehicles which are spread over the Paarl and Wellington area.

“Seven areas have their own commanders and gear for optimal response and are covered by a private radio network over repeaters,” said Boomkamp.

Active Australian firefighter Brent Clayton, who has written a book on firefighting and also runs a firefighting recruitment agency, said: “My biggest takeaway from the crisis in Australia right now is the need to have resources put aside in preparation for most, if not all, eventualities.”

Active Australian firefighter Brent Clayton. Picture: Supplied

Towards the end of last year, as the provincial authorities announced their preparations for fire season, it emerged that the province had 21 aircraft on standby to tackle wildfires across the Western Cape.

These include nine water-bombing helicopters, four water-bombing aircraft and eight spotter command and control aircraft that can be deployed using 36 runways prepared across the province.

Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning MEC Anton Bredell said: “Every year, the fire season seems to be getting worse.

Conditions across the province are still hazardous in many areas following the devastating drought we have faced that caused lots of brush and veld to die. If the veld catches alight and the wind takes the flames, the results can be devastating.”

The aerial resources are complemented by 1550 municipal firefighters across the province, bolstered by more than 1000 seasonal firefighters, municipal and other organisations.

@MwangiGithahu

[email protected]

Cape Argus

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