South Africa — More than 250 firefighters, supported by fire fighting aircraft, are struggling to control a wildland fire which has burned more than 80, 000ha of veld in central Thabazimbi since Friday.
Their efforts are being coordinated by an Incident Command System (ICS) team which is operating out of the Police Training Academy at Verdrag, with Working on Fire Provincial ground operation manager for the Gauteng and North West, Kobus Visser currently holding the position of Incident Commander.
In terms of the ICS, a single Incident Commander has authority over all firefighting resources, coordinating fire fighting strategies and deploying firefighters and aircraft to areas where they can be most effective. This single focus approach has been successfully implemented internationally and nationally at times of natural disasters.
The fire in central Thabazimbi, in Limpopo province, 190km North West of Pretoria has burned 50 percent of the Marakele National Park. No loss of life has been reported. However some farm structures in the area have been burned.
The Working on Fire Programme is part of governments Expanded Public Works Programme, run through the Department of Water Affairs and implemented by the FFA group of companies. The job creation programme recruits and trains formerly unemployed people to fight wildland fires and currently employs over 3000 fire-fighters nationally. Five WoF wildland firefighting 24 person Hot Shot crews are currently fighting the blaze alongside firefighters from local Fire Protection Associations (FPAs). Additional crews will be mobilised to assist if required. A sixth WoF Team is already en route to assist the wildland fire fighters already there.
Close to 100 South African Police services trainees are also at the fire line.
Working on Fire has dispatched two helicopters to fight the fire as well as a spotter aircraft to assist with aerial reconnaissance and guidance to the firefighting effort. The South Africa Defence Force has also provided two Oryx helicopters to assist the fire fighting effort.
It was decided to set up an incident command centre to co-ordinate the efforts of the various fire fighting entities, said Visser
The fire is under control but not contained, he added. Very hot temperatures of up to 38 degrees and strong winds have created ideal conditions for runaway fires.
According to WoF meteorologist Santjie du Toit, temperatures in the area will remain high for the next two days. Firefighters hope that thundershowers forecast for Wednesday and Thursday will bring temperatures down to the high 20s.
These will just be quick showers though, not lingering rain at the same time the wind will pick up to 30km+/hour . said Visser,
It is vital that we sustain the firefighting efforts until the fire is extinguished, said Visser. We welcome the assistance of our partners, the South African Police, the South African Defence Force and local communities in fighting this fire. It is through all our efforts that we will bring it under control and then put it out, he said.
An investigation will be launched into the cause of the fire once it has been brought under control
* The Working on Fire Programme, launched in 2003 is part of governments Expanded Public Works Programme, run through the Department of Water Affairs and implemented by the FFA group of companies. The job creation programme recruits and trains formerly unemployed people to fight wildland fires and currently employs over 3000 fire-fighters nationally. Firefighters are recruited from marginalized communities and put through extensive training programmes equipping them to become skilled veld and forest fire fighters. They are deployed in teams of 22 as part of a co-ordinated national network of aerial and ground fire fighting resources. WoF supplies wildfire fighting services to the Forestry Industry in South Africa, the KZN Provincial Department of Agriculture and Environment, South African National Parks, Cape Nature, Mpumalanga Parks Board, Fire Protection Associations, municipalities and various other organizations. Through the National Disaster Management Centre, The FFA also supplies helicopters and fixed wing aircraft to supplement local aerial firefighting efforts.