I wrote about the wildfires in Alberta, in and around the Fort McMurray area when it first began. That was a month ago. When I wrote on May 6, the fire covered 850 square kilometers. At that that time I thought that was an extremely large area. It now covers 5,800 square kilometers and has spread to the neighboring province of Saskatchewan. It has grown nearly seven times in size.
There are currently 2,292 firefighters either battling blazes across Alberta or are en route to do so – including nearly 200 people from the United States and crews from across Canada. Firefighters in Alberta are being supported by 90 helicopters, 273 pieces of heavy equipment and 20 air tankers. According to an update by the province on Sunday, 14 active wildfires continue to burn in Alberta – however, only the Fort McMurray fire remained out of control.
~Edmonton CTV New
Things are slowly shaping up, though. We don’t hear much about the fire any more. There is also a plan to begin a voluntary phased re-entry of evacuees today. In the areas least effect by the fire, people are being allowed to return. However, there is still great caution to return so soon. Especially those with young children and those with respiratory issues.
However, something caught my eye on Monday when DW and I were out on a lunch date (the boys were in school so we had lunch at Tim Hortons). On the front page of the newspaper, The Globe and Mail (link to the actual article), was a headline about 300 firefighters from South Africa going to Fort McMurray to help fight the fires. Intrigued, I started reading.
It’s the largest non-military deployment of South Africans to a foreign country.
It turns out this deployment reaps two benefits. First, it is a sort of repayment of a debt, a thank you to Canada for support in South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle. However, it’s also changing the lives of the 300 fire fighters sent to help battle the wildly out of control blaze. These young men and women were jobless. They were recruited for a government program called “Working on Fire” which has now trained 5,000 fire fighters to work across South Africa. They have sent Canada 300 of them.
After a month in Canada, they will take home the equivalent of about $1,500 each. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s 10 times more than their normal monthly stipend in the training program. It will help many of the firefighters to get out of shacks and build new brick houses, get driver’s licences or enter postsecondary education.
It may or may not be what they need to tame the beast that is the wildfire, but it will be a great help. They will help extinguish the fiery fields and raise the hopeful spirits of both the Canadian firefighters and the recruits from abroad.
Thank you South Africa.