Minister Barbara Creecy’s address welcoming Working On Fire team home from fighting fires in Canada

30 July 2019

The High Commissioner of Canada to South Africa, Her Excellency Sandra McCardell;
The Managing Director of Working on Fire, Mr Trevor Abrahams,
Senior Working on Fire officials and strike team leaders,
Our 40 returning fire fighters, our heroes and heroines;
Members of the Media

Ladies and Gentlemen

Good Morning to all

It is an honour for me to be here today to welcome home a team of firefighters who have done our country proud. It is with pride that we can say today, that you assisted in bringing the huge Chuckegg fire, in Alberta Canada, under control before your return home. This enormous fire which started on 12 May 2019, burnt over 350 000 hectares or 3 500 square kilometres. It lead to mass evacuations of rural communities and destroyed a number of homes.

What is most heartening to hear, is that because of your efforts, the boundary line, remained unbreached by the fire. You stood with 1180 firefighters from all over Canada, Mexico and the USA and said: “this far and no further”.

This achievement is a great testament your skills, discipline fitness, knowledge and insight.

I am glad to learn this morning that none of you took any risks – a wish that I had expressed in my message to you when you arrived in Canada in June. This is in no small measure due to the very high safety standards in this mammoth operation

 This year Alberta has had an extreme fire season, which typically comes to an end late August- early September. To date more than 880 000 hectares have been lost compared to the annual average loss of 147 000 hectares.

As global temperatures continue to rise, amid a fast changing global climate, natural and man-made disasters are on the increase.  Higher temperatures mean drier conditions.  These are perfect for runaway fires.

Many of you who have returned home today, would have gained your early experience in our own devastating forest fires in the Knysna and George areas of the Southern Cape. 

Because we are experiencing exceptionally dry conditions over large parts of our country at the moment, I have no doubt we will soon need your new experience and skills in our Working on Fire Programme.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the deployment of this team of 45 fire-fighters and team leaders to Alberta, was our third deployment to Canada at the invitation of the Canadian Inter-Agency Forest Fire Centre. The month-long deployment, has further deepened South Africa’s relations with Canada on integrated fire management capacities.

Our Department has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Canadian Department of Natural Resources, in terms of which either country may request urgent support from the other with regards to wildfire management.

The camaraderie built through your morning Working on Fire parade, will stand you in good stead in years to come. Almost all of you have reported benefitting greatly from the exposure to new techniques, approaches, equipment and the novelty of fighting underground fires.  I am happy to learn that your actions have been ranked as professional and of a high standard.

On a lighter note, I believe that your singing of the national anthem soon resulted in an anthem singing contest, and that you were even requested to sign birthday greetings for other firefighters, or just sing a song to lift the spirits of your fellow fighfighters.

I also believe that on the 18th of July, you got your hands dirty as your contribution to Mandela Day by cleaning in and around the barn and stables for a retired couple farming in the area where you were deployed.  I don’t think those old folk will easily forget the firefighters from South Africa who paid tribute to Johnny Clegg at the end of the work by putting on a poignant rendition of “Asibonanga”.

I would like to conclude by congratulating you and by saying Thank You for honouring our country and your profession. 

Your deployment, and the involvement in South Africa in an international team such as this, is something to be proud of.

I salute you all.