Western Cape firefighters are up to the challenge

Despite the Western Cape being hit by over 17,000 wildfires over the past three months, the Western Cape Fire and Rescue Services have boosted their capacity to such an extent that they successfully dealt with the increased threat of wildfires in the province this season.

Firefighters have extinguished 97% of blazes within the first hour, said Anton Bredell, Minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning.

According to Bredell, the number of operational runways for firefighting aircraft has been expanded from 5 to 36 to accommodate the 28 aircraft that have been put into action.

Tracey Whittaker, senior firefighter and Media and Quality Assurance Officer at Goodwood Fire Station, said that due to the extent of the fires, personnel and vehicles from all 30 of the fire stations in the Western Cape have been utilised to attend to the wildfires.

The hours are very demanding. “We work on a 24 hour shift system. Shifts start at 9am and finish the following day at 9am. There is a three platoon rotation and depending on the size of the fire station, we have between 8 and 15 firefighters on duty per shift for that station,” said Whittaker.

They are not alone in their efforts though. The Volunteer Wildfire Services operates out of four stations in the Western Cape. With approximately 220 members, this non-profit organisation provides significant support to the Fire and Rescue Services.

According to Whittaker, the exact cost to local government is still unknown as assessments of the damages are ongoing, and while there are various investigations underway into possible arson cases, there is no conclusive evidence as yet.

To report wild fires or any fire emergencies please use the following numbers:
Western Cape Fire and Rescue Services: 107
Volunteer Wildfire Services: 112

A firefighter in action.

A firefighter in action. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons