South Africa — Government has allocated an additional R9.4 million towards the Working on Fire programme for what has been described as a costly and very busy fire season in the Western Cape.
The traditional “fire season” ends in the Western Cape at the end of April, with Southern Cape areas continuing to be at risk during Berg wind conditions prevalent in the Autumn.
The allocation by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry is expected to ease the programmes financial burden while positioning it to effectively deal with logistical issues.
According to the department, it costs close to R23 000 to keep a Working on Fire programme helicopter in the air for just one hour – this on top of the annual “standing fee” of R1 million per helicopter.
The fire above Kirstenbosch in February 2006, for example, cost the programme over R600 000 in flying costs alone, said the department.
As a result, partners in the Working on Fire programme have had extremely high aerial fire-fighting costs since the beginning of December, and had run out of budget to keep the helicopters and fixed-wing water-bombers in the sky.
Nevertheless, aircraft will continue to be on standby until the end of April, after which most helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft will be redeployed to provide aerial fire-fighting support for veld and forest fires in the winter fire-season regions of the north and KwaZulu-Natal.
Through the National Disaster Management Centre, the programme supplies two Mi8MTV helicopters and two fixed-wing spotter aircraft to supplement local aerial firefighting efforts.
According to the department, the additional funding has been a significant boost to the Provincial Disaster Management Centre, District Councils, the City of Cape Town, South African National Parks and Cape Nature, which all partner with the national government in the Working on Fire programme.
“Cape Nature is very appreciative that the additional funding has been made available, said Fanie Bekker, acting CEO of CapeNature.
“This is very good news for professional fire management in the Western Cape especially as these have been the most severe fires ever recorded in the region.”
The departments Deputy Director: Corporate Communication Rachelle Seymore said fires in the province had been particularly severe and flying costs have had a real impact on the budgets of the Working on Fire partners.
The money was allocated to assist with these costs, she said, saying this was in line with governments drive to deal with wild fires in the country that have an impact in the economy.
Working on Fire has a proven track record of success in this field, she added.
About 46 firebases have been established throughout the country with each boasting a 22-member firefighting crew, selected from formerly unemployed people and trained by Working of Fire Programme.
The programme has even won a Platinum award in the Impumelelo Awards for innovation recently – for its combination of highly trained ground crews drawn from previously unemployed people.