Wildfires are the scourge of South African rural communities and costs the economy billions of rand each year. Working on Fire (WoF) is a government-funded, job-creation programme focusing on Integrated Fire Management. WoF fire fighters are recruited from marginalised communities and trained in fire awareness and education, prevention and fire suppression skills.
They form veld and forest fire fighting ground crews, stationed at bases around the country.
Zanele Nxumalo, National Community Fire Awareness Coordinator, reports on the Working on Fire Cafe’ held on day 2 of the World Forestry Congress.
“Communities taking ownership of fire management is the key to reducing the number of unwanted fires,” says Working on Fire, the South African Government’s leading programme in Integrated Fire Management (IFM)”.
Over 90% of unwanted fires are caused by human negligence. But not all fires are bad. Fire is also used as a tool to manage eco systems. Working on Fire communicates these messages to rural communities at risk of wildfires to change their fire behaviour. Fire awareness education is regarded as the key component of IFM.
Communities in rural areas use fire for cooking, heat, and for preparing grazing land when the grass has died back. Most of the rural communities depend on farming for a living; some are sugar cane farmers and timber growers. Every fire season these communities are threatened by veld fires.
Working on Fire (WOF) implements fire awareness education projects in schools and communities that are considered high fire-prone areas. WOF runs fire safe workshops, fire safe presentations and door-to-door fire safe campaigns.
Through these activities communities are able to identify and mitigate veldfire risks inside and outside their homes and become aware of the environmental issues that contribute to a number of unwanted fires, such as invasive alien plants. They are taught about the importance of creating defensible space between the house and anything that can burn. Once they have identified the risks, they are then assisted to design a fire management plan.
Fire prevention and saving forest is everybody’s responsibility in the community.
Bloppost and picture by Zanele Nxumalo, National Community Fire Awareness Coordinator – zanele.nxumalo(at)wofire.co.za