Speeches

Launch Of The Western Cape Summer Fire Season Aircraft 2013/14

2 December 2013
A warm welcome to Mr Ronnie Kasrils, one of the key founding fathers of the Working on Fire Programme 
The fire chiefs of the district municipalities 
Officials from City of Cape Town Fire Services 
Officials from the Department of Environmental Affairs  
CapeNature (Gail Clever Christie) 
Members of fire protection associations and landowners 
Representatives from Santam 
Western Cape Disaster Management and Fire Brigade Services 
officials and the media attending today
 
The veld fire situation has reportedly worsened significantly across South Africa during the past several years. There have been major and catastrophic fires in many areas and the fire response capacity was overwhelmed throughout the region. 
 
The Western Cape Province has been identified in South Africa’s Initial National Communication on Climate Change as the most vulnerable region in the country with respect to disaster risks from veld fire due to patterns of urbanisation, agriculture and potential impacts upon water catchment areas.
 
Fires in the central parts of the Fynbos Biome are projected to continue to increase in the future.
 
As air temperatures and the frequency of heat waves continue to increase, and rainfall decreases, the occurrence of high fire danger and the likelihood and frequency of fires is likely to increase substantially.
 
The Western Cape Government identified the need for a rapid response to wild land fires in their early stages and established its rapid response programme during the 2011/12 wildfire season.  
 
This programme is designed around the principle of responding the maximum amount of aircraft and ground teams to a fire in its early stages.  
 
By gaining control within the first hour of the fire the possibility of a major incident is minimised. 
 
To this end, the National Department of Environmental Affairs’ Working On Fire Programme has brought its fleet of 26 aircraft fresh from duty elsewhere in the country to the Western Cape for what has become known as the "summer fire season".
 
Recognising the critical role that a rapid, specialised aerial response makes in significantly reducing fire damage, the Western Cape Government has contributed towards the capital costs of the Working on Fire fleet.
 
The fleet consists of:
  • Eight cessna spotter aircraft.
  • Eight bell UH-1 helicopters.
  • Eight fixed wing dromader water bombers.
  • Two fixed wing airtractor 802 bombers.
We wait with great anticipation to see the impact of the addition of Working on Fire’s two new airtractor 802s, which have a larger capacity and longer range than the other aircraft.
 
A scientific GIS based method of determining the optimal placement of these resources is used, which takes into account the veld type, age and risk profile of the area. The available resources are then placed in areas where they will be able to respond in the shortest possible time to the maximum effect.
 
For the 2012/13 season it was decided to increase the number of runways from 26 to 36, which significantly improved the response times for the bombers.
 
The province experienced its highest intensity of fires at the end of January 2013 when four major fires flared up simultaneously in various parts of the province.
 
A large scale aerial support capacity was activated and this led to 26 aircraft operating at the same time. 
 
For the coming fire season Western Cape Disaster Management Centre (WCDMC) will increase its fleet with the addition of two new “Airtractor 802” fixed wing bombers which have a larger capacity and longer range than the current aircraft.
 
The Western Cape’s Disaster Management and Fire Brigade Services are responsible for monitoring of Municipal Fire Services, co-ordination of fire fighting activities and the administration of the Fire Services Act.  
 
In order to achieve this, the following activities are performed:
  • Co-ordination of Provincial Wild-fire Aerial Support Programme.
  • Fire prevention and public information programme.
  • Informal settlement fire safety.
  • Special operations response co-ordination.
During wildfire operations, like the big Franschoek fire of December 2012 – January 2013, the District municipality fire services are responsible for the management of the actual incident. 
 
In the Western Cape, CapeNature and Cape Pine as well as other agencies play a role as landowners or service providers in terms of the National Veld and Forest Fire Act.
 
Every land owner must do everything in their power to stop the spread of fire from their land or that of adjoining land. Failure to do so is an offence and may result in legal action.
 
The public has the right to know what is happening during wildfires and it has happened that the media sometimes sensationalises the event. Most role players and public would be interested in the actions taken by the various parties at both wild fires and controlled burns.
 
For this reason, public information officers, trained to deal with members of the media, will be stationed at Incident command centres at big fires.
 
Working on Fire is a key partner and stakeholder of my department and provide essential services in terms of aerial support and ground crews spread across the province. My colleague, Mr Gail Clever, will let you know more about that a bit later.
 
During the last three years, WCDMC, together with the province, have established a Special Operations Response Team that consists of highly trained rescue specialists who are capable of responding to major disasters involving collapsed buildings. 
 
There are currently 80 of these people working at various municipal fire services and rescue bases in the province and can be called upon at any time to respond to emergencies not only within the Western Cape but also in South Africa and internationally.
 
Fires can be prevented and everyone has a role to play in ensuring they are prevented. The fire sub directorate’s fire prevention campaign will use a wide range of resources to communicate the importance of taking action to protect ourselves and the people we love from the dangers of fire.
 
We recognise the power of partnership as a critical means of marketing and delivering accurate and consistent safety messages into the community. 
 
This can be accomplished using a number of strategies, such as sharing information, joint development of targeted messaging and implementing multi-level behaviour modification interventions. 
 
By leveraging the fire prevention campaign, resources, supporting dissemination or advertising efforts, and encouraging private and government agencies to join the initiative, the fire safety community can present a consistent, repetitive message.
 
This content messaging will help diverse members of our society personalise and take action to reduce their risk of fire. This includes support for public service announcement placements, educational outreach to community organisations, local media relations activities, and much more.

 

Media Enquiries: 
Peter Pullen
Spokesperson for Minister Bredell
Tel: 021 483 2820
Cell: 082 574 3773