Cape Winelands District Municipality gears up for challenging fire season

The Western Cape Government, in collaboration with the Cape Winelands District Municipality (CWDM) and various stakeholders, officially launched the Provincial Fire Readiness Initiative in Stellenbosch on Monday 27 November 2023. As the region braces for a potentially busy fire season, the CWDM is at the forefront of ensuring preparedness and coordination to safeguard lives, property and the environment.

Ald (Dr) Elna von Schlicht, CWDM Executive Mayor, highlighted the importance of collaboration: “Our readiness and response capabilities hinge on collaborative efforts. The Cape Winelands District Municipality, local municipalities, Cape Nature, the Winelands Fire Protection Association and the Western Cape Government play important roles in ensuring coordinated responses to fire incidents in our district. By pooling our resources and coordinating our efforts, we enhance our ability to effectively and efficiently manage fire-related challenges.”

During the previous fire season (July 2022 to April 2023), the Fire Services responded to 1 130 fires of which the majority occurred in the Stellenbosch and Drakenstein areas.

The wet winter has led to vigorous vegetation growth, setting the stage for a potentially busy fire season as hot, dry and windy conditions have been predicted. Furthermore, the extensive flooding experienced in June and September has damaged minor (gravel) roads that are crucial for accessing remote areas, adding another level of complexity to firefighting efforts.

With these odds, the Fire Services are approaching the season with 110 staff working in three shifts at five fire depots in the district, strategically distributed for firefighting, control room duties and incident command support. Aerial firefighting support is secured through Leading Edge Aerial Resources that utilises two helicopters to assist with water bombing, reconnaissance flights and the trooping of ground crews to areas inaccessible by foot, when required. Ground teams of 10 members each are contracted via two contractors, adding a further 90 members who will be available for the veld fire season.

The allocation of operational firefighting vehicles has been meticulously planned to ensure a robust response capability. Each fire depot will have the minimum vehicles required. The twelve immediately available vehicles will be manned with at least two firefighters each. Stellenbosch and Worcester will each house two major pumper veld firefighting vehicles and one light 4×4 veld firefighting vehicle with skid units, while Wellington, Ceres and Robertson will each have one major and one light firefighting vehicle with a skid unit. This strategic allocation ensures that the municipality is prepared to address fire incidents effectively across various locations with specialised vehicles designed for different firefighting scenarios.

A major 4×4 veld firefighting vehicle is defined as a vehicle with the capacity of a 3 800 litres-per-minute pump and a minimum water tank capacity of 4 500 litres. A light 4×4 veld firefighting vehicle will carry a skid unit consisting of a 600 litre water tank and a pump driven by a 13 HP engine.

And then there is our state-of-the-art, custom-designed mobile incident command bus. This bus will enable the CWDM, its partners and other role-players to assemble in an easily accessible vehicle and effectively predict, plan and initiate mitigation actions in response to major incidents that pose a threat to the community and property.

Ald (Dr) Elna von Schlicht concluded, “Let us face the upcoming fire season with resilience, cooperation and a shared determination. Our collective efforts are crucial in protecting lives, property, the environment and livelihoods in the Cape Winelands District Municipality.”

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