Hornsby firefighter battles African blaze 30 times larger than our 1994 bushfires

Hornsby firefighter battles African blaze 30 times larger than our 1994 bushfires

08 April 2011

published by hornsby-advocate.whereilive.com.au

Botswana / Australia — A HORNSBY firefighter has been able to share his experience and expertise with firefighters in Botswana.

The African nation sent out a call for help after two devastating wildfires in 2008 and 2010 resulted in 12 deaths and burnt out 24 million hectares.

The scale of the tragedy can be seen by comparing it with NSW’s largest fires in 1994, which burnt through 800,000ha of bushland.

Group captain Grant Wargren, a 35-year veteran with the Hornsby-Ku-ring-gai Rural Fire Service, was selected to be part of the Botswana Fire Management Program.

The aim of the five-year program is to assist the Botswana government to develop a successful, functional and co-ordinated fire management regime.

Mr Wargren spent three weeks in Botswana in February with two other RFS volunteers training locals in how to organise and manage large scale incidents using systems and procedures that have been used in Australia for some years now.

He said their reaction was “pretty positive”.

“They are really keen to learn, but there’s some distance to go yet,” he said.

Botswana’s firefighters are hindered by poor communication infrastructure and a lack of firefighting resources.

Indeed, their main weapon to fight fires is a device comprising an aluminum pole with a rubber flap – used to beat the fire out.

“Communication is very ordinary,” he said.

“One guy was telling us he had to drive 250km to give his situation report because he couldn’t get (radio) coverage; that makes it very hard to run a big incident.”

Mr Wargren was also surprised that the country doesn’t have any volunteer firefighters.

“We are showing them ways to develop that,” he said.

“Some of the things I took away from it (the trip) was the enthusiasm of the people to improve what they have got.

“Some of those people know what they are doing … they had a lot of knowledge on how to fight a fire just not much training in some of the organisational things.”

Another Hornsby firefighter, Hugo Floriani, will be among the next batch of firies to travel to Botswana as part of the program.

He will be assisting with crew leader and prescribed burning training.

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