Fire is a natural part of the renewing cycle in the bush. But when it happens in populated areas the scale of the disaster is shocking. The Far South area of South Africa is home to nature reserves, mountain ranges, cities, townships, farms, and a thriving tourism industry.
The EVS Foundation Recruits and Trains Volunteer Fire Fighters
Fires can range unchecked for weeks consuming vast ranges. The winds in the summer regularly reach gale force and can sweep a fire from township to city to mountain within moments. Fire does not discriminate between uninhabited mountains and densely populated areas.
A fire will relentlessly consume everything in its path. This is the same mountain the day after the fire. There are pockets that are still burning at the peak. The winds shifted and the fire has moved down the other face of the mountain. This fire has been blazing for 3 weeks and a lucky change in the wind yesterday spared the homes of Betty’s Bay.
Recovery from a fire is slow. This mountain is not under snow, this is the ash left one year after the fire. Wild fires are just as much an environmental issue as they are a social and economic issue. Besides the huge personal losses people suffer, recurrent wild fires prevent the indigenous and endemic biodiversity from taking root. Fires destroy a significant part of the local economy (ostrich farms, bee keeping, wild flower farms, tourism attractions, the biodiversity of the national park) and this costs the region in terms of job losses, livelihoods and income.
Firefighters can no longer use seawater to douse the flames as this kills the indigenous plants of the fynbos. Fast growing alien plants that are not affected by seawater can quickly claim the land. There is a vineyard at the foot of this mountain that was spared from the flames. As droughts increase firefighters will soon no longer be able to pour tens of thousands of litres of drinking water onto wild fires. Communities will need this water to drink.
The invasion of the alien plants is something firefighters battle as well. The oil in the Australian wattle, seen here in the foreground, burns much hotter than indigenous plants, making it difficult to douse flames; spreading fire fast. Wattle grows very quickly and is not affected by a seawater douse.
The Far South includes far-flung areas, stretching over Table Mountain National Park to Cape Point Park, including Simonstown, Kommetjie, Noordhoek, Masiphumelele, Red Hill, Mzantsi and other communities.
… to townships, the Far South is a fire prone part of the Peninsula. Over the last 8 years wild fires have increasingly gone out of control in the gale force winds.
In winter the informal settlements get hit by shack fires, and these blow over into the Table Mountain National Park areas. In summer it’s often the reverse where wild fires, fanned by gale force south easterly winds, often blow into the suburbs and settlements.
Alarmed by the increasing frequency of fires and concerned by the splintered infrastructure in place to deal with it, Davin Chown got involved at a volunteer level. He now is a unit manager for the volunteer support program that supplements government-employed firefighters. Frustrated by the inability to secure needed resources such as manpower, training and equipment, Davin established the Emergency Assistance Volunteer Support Foundation (EVS). You can check out their work here: www.evs.org.za
Masiphumelele – this township was hit by a devastating fire in May 2011, which lasted 8 hours, cost 3 people their lives, and destroyed over 550 formal and informal dwellings leaving 5000+ people homeless.
One of the difficulties of fighting shack fires is the maze-like way that townships have developed. As a firefighter from outside the community the access to and location of any fireplugs is unknown. Can you imagine running a firehose, not to mention a fire truck, through this alley? The EVS Foundation recruits and trains volunteer firefighters in every community to ensure local knowledge and support for fire fighting.
Candle use is a significant source of shack fires. Here Davin shows that electrifying the township is not necessarily any safer, fire-wise.
Small children can play a big part in fire-prevention.
The EVS Foundation conducts a fire prevention outreach program for small children. Davin explains that kids may set fires because they like to see the helicopters come. Unfortunately, because of the wind conditions, helicopters cannot always be employed to fight fires. When the wind conditions prohibit helicopter deployment for a fire it creates a backlash in public perception: people believe helicopters are only deployed when fire threatens wealthier populations.
Davin recruits a new volunteer. The man in the white hat is interested in teaching the “tinys” about fire prevention and helping as a member of the local fire fighting volunteers. Unemployment is high inSouth Africa (47%+) and often volunteering is the only way to get some level of exposure to a work-oriented non-university, non-school environment that leads to a meaningful exposure to professional services. Many of the volunteers, who receive sound training and exposure in the volunteer ranks, often find their way in to the permanent services. It allows young people to gain a level of experience that they will find hard to gain elsewhere.
One of the issues of recovery from a fire is delivery and efficacy of health care. This is an open sewer in the township – it keeps people from being able to access mobile clinics and creates health issues of magnitude on its own.
The EVS Foundation collaborates with Enviro Wildfire Services and MercyNet in building community based disaster preparedness and wildfire combating capacities. EVS Foundation has been asked to prepare a disaster prevention and management plan for the Far South. This plan will be used as a model to implement in other regions of the country. Notice the drinking water supply is right next to the sewer.
There’s not much privacy in a township. This woman is doing laundry by the water supply – close to the toilets and sewer.
Occasionally the sewers get cleaned.
They drain directly into the marsh.
The EVS Foundation provides fire fighting equipment, firefighting training, fire prevention community educational outreach, and is now newly appointed to create region-wide disaster management plans. What is not readily apparent in the Foundation’s missions or photos is the unspoken core purpose of community building. Davin is dedicated to building bridges amongst myriad factions that make up South African society.
Critical to the success of the programs is creating a culture in which volunteer firefighters from all communities have a level of trust in each other, regardless of racial or economic backgrounds. Often times experienced firefighters are seen as part of the ‘old’ system. Building that trust is what will enable experienced members of the team to share their knowledge through training and to have their directives accepted and acted upon in times of emergency.
Another bridge of trust is being built between government programs and the communities they serve. The many changes in structure and unpredictable actions (or lack of) of different government programs have lead to community frustration and apathy. Davin established the EVS Foundation as a solution to the situation.
This gives his region, donors, and community some control over their equipment – making sure it’s available to serve their area when needed and that the right kinds of equipment are allocated for the different communities. By working together with other foundations and in partnership with government programs, the EVS Foundation is helping to create a new system that provides an effective infrastructure and communications for the protection and betterment of the region.
As a board member of the EVS Foundation, Davin relies on his military experience, the skills he developed during his years as an international consultant with Accenture, and his connecting and program building abilities from heading two companies to help advance the organization. Davin and Heidi met and discussed growing fundraising capacity for the EVS Foundation. Davin has been the major contributor to the foundation and is ready to grow in local, regional and international support.
One thing Davin was overlooking as he worked to increase support for the Foundation was the veracity and legitimacy his position as a major donor brings to his appeals. A strong case is made when asking someone to consider investing in your cause when you are inviting them to join with you rather than asking them to do something that you have not yet done yourself. Techniques from Major League Major Gifts were employed to help Davin expand and find the future major supporters who will help the EVS Foundation in its fire prevention, education, outreach and community building efforts. As EVS’s model disaster management plan is implemented the whole country and all its citizens will benefit. Perhaps building bridges through fire is as important as building fire breaks.