Update of the Fire Situation by the Incident Command Group (New Photographs: see below)
On 9-10 March 2000 the fires continue to burn in the same areas as in the previous days. There are no updated estimates on effected hectares of forestland or other damages incurred. The six days weather forecasts predicts slow to moderate winds and relatively low humidities, conditions which are quite suitable for fire fighting. However, there are still no forecasts predicting rains.
Three crew leaders from the Republic of South Africa (RSA) have arrived Wednesday and had an intensive briefing about the situation and also evaluated the photo material. They are confident to be able to cope with the situation, stating that conditions are similar to what they know from South African forests. Thursday morning, they went to the field together with Johan Heine in order to survey and map fire sites and assess logistical arrangements. They will stay at Goba base and await the fire fighting crews from RSA which are scheduled to arrive in Addis Ababa Tonight (Friday 10 March). They will be dispatched to Goba early morning on Saturday. Later on Saturday, the RSA team will be completed with the arrival of 2 helicopter pilot trainers, one technician and three more crew leaders. They will continue to Goba immediately upon clearing of equipment. The spotter plane has arrived at Nairobi and is expected in Addis at about noon on Friday.
Deon Britts (RSA Team) and Jim Sorenson (USA) have left Wednesday afternoon for Robe/Goba in order to carry out some training of ground crew leaders (Deon and GebreKidan) and to generally assess the situation (Jim). Deon, Johan and Jim will return tomorrow at about 3 p.m. The RSA assessment team will return to Johannesburg on Saturday morning.
Actual field operations are scheduled to start on Saturday. Committed funding is sufficient to keep the RSA fire fighting crews going for close to 2 weeks. The strategy is to team them up with initially 20, later up to 100 motivated and physically fit Ethiopian soldiers. The RSA mission head is confident that the Ethiopian soldiers will be capable of continuing the job after having been trained on the job for 10 days or more. They will work under the supervision of 2 RSA team leaders who will remain in the field after the two weeks have expired. This way local capacities will be built for fighting future fire incidents. This also holds true for the Ethiopian helicopter pilots who will be trained by the South African pilot trainers in the use of helicopter buckets and lowering down fire fighters by winch. There is a positive response from the USA and Canada to supply the additional specialist equipment which is required to equip the 100 Ethiopian fire fighters, even though final endorsement is still awaited.
The German Government has prepared the shipment of 320 backpack pumps which will be deployed to enforce the ground-based fire fighting crews (arrival of backpack pumps at Addis Ababa: Tuesday 14 March 2000).
However, despite these efforts for capacity building the Ethiopian Government is still hoping to get a favourable response from the donor community regarding its request for additional specialist fire fighting crews and helicopters. In view of the magnitude of the task this is certainly still an urgent requirement.
Today the Ministry for Agriculture (MoA) received a report about a serious fire in Yabello Forest Priority Area. Reportedly, about 350 ha have been burnt or are still under fire. The fire is raging in natural Juniperus procera stands, which are dominating the forest area. Yabello Forest is one of 4 isolated dry Juniperus Woodland/Forest areas in the southern part of Ethiopia. Fire fighting is severely constrained by shortage of staff (many Woreda Agricultural Office staff members were assigned to the Shakiso fires) and shortage of field equipment (axes, bowsaws, back-pack pumps, fire beaters, head lamps, etc).
Some visual impressions from the currently ongoing fires in Ethiopia