New firewatch system to curb blaze in shacks

New firewatch system to curb blaze in shacks

14 December 2006

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South Africa — In what firefighting officials are hailing as a “world-firstin fire combating methods”, water-bombing helicopters in the Western Capewill be assisted by the activation of new cameras to help in spotting andcurbing informal settlement blazes.

The two additional cameras, one at the top of Sir Lowry’s Pass and another onConstantia Peak, will form part of the Operation Firewatch project. “Thisis a world-first because what we’re doing is actually using resources meant forforest or veld fires and using them to put out structural fires. We’re doing sobecause it’s very difficult for firefighters to gain access to informalsettlements with their vehicles.

“Operation Firewatch was implemented as a pilot project in 2005 but is nowprocedural, which means air and ground resources will routinely work together,”said Val Charlton, the advocacy and awareness co-ordinator of Working on Fire (WoF).

The cameras would enable dispatchers at the Regional Fire Control Centre inGoodwood to establish where fires were and activate water-bombing helicopterswhere necessary.

They also extended the area already surveyed by cameras positioned on theAthlone Towers, Tygerberg Hills and Pappegaai Mountains in Stellenbosch.

On Wednesday the Stellenbosch municipality agreed to sub-let a portion of theStellenbosch airfield to WoF for the fourth year so their aircraft – consistingof two spotter planes, four Dromader fire bombers and a Bell UH1″Huey” helicopter – could be based there during the fire season.

The season extends from the beginning of December until the end of April.

Louis Venter, WoF’s national air operations manager, said they covered the arearanging from the Winelands to the Cape Peninsula. WoF aircraft also crossed theHottentots Holland mountain range for operations in the Overberg area.

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