A firefighter backs away from the flames after lighting a controlled burn near Tomerong, Australia, on Wednesday in an effort to contain a larger fire nearby. Picture: AP Photo/Rick Rycroft

Cape Town – Being prone to wildfires itself, the Western Cape government has offered its assistance to the disaster-struck Australia.

But, while the province’s offer was well received, the Australian authorities indicated that assistance was not needed at the moment. 

"Disasters do not recognise boundaries and in the spirit of humanity and friendship, the Western Cape government extended its offer of support to the Australian government,” Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning MEC Anton Bredell said on Wednesday.

Bredell says the Western Cape government reached out to the Australian High Commissioner on January 3 to offer support and convey its sympathies to the Australian people for the ongoing disaster. 

“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 do so.” 

Bredell says the Western Cape 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 in the Western Cape per year and while these are not near the scale of the fires seen in Australia, some have been quite severe. 

"Over the past 10 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 40 highly experienced, wildland firefighters and a command element, with the possibility of expanding on this if required.” 

Bredell says the province’s offer was well received but immediate assistance was not needed at the moment. 

“Our offer remains on the table and our thoughts and prayers are with our colleagues in Australia.”

Residents and tourists in Australia have been left reeling as wildfires engulf parts of the country, killing at least 25 people and destroying an area larger than Denmark. 

Last week, an ecologist at the University of Sydney estimated that nearly half-a-billion animals had been wiped out since the wildfires started spreading in September. That number has soared to over 800 million in New South Wales and more than 1 billion nationally. 

Nearly 20 million acres have burned across the country, and authorities say the fires could keep burning for months, with residents of entire towns forced to flee their homes. 

University of Sydney Professor Chris Dickman told CBS News that because Australia often sees the effects of climate change before other parts of the world, these fires could be a preview of what's to come globally. 

Cape Times