Cape Town’s fire season is off to an early start this year.
On Wednesday 11 October, a blaze broke out on the 12 Apostles mountain range between Camps Bay and Llandudno on the city’s Atlantic Seaboard. A few days later, another fire was reported on Signal Hill. That same day, a veld fire broke out along the N2.
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The second week of October was not a good one for firefighters.
Said firefighters from a number of different organisations were called to battle the flames. And notably, social media once again became one of the mediums used to disseminate information to citizens through the trending hashtags #12ApostlesFire and #CTFire.
And while that’s brilliant for South Africa’s ever-digital citizens, finding that information, and deciding who is a reliable source is a bit more challenging.
With that said, we take a look at the individuals, firefighters and organisations you should follow on social media during Cape Town’s fire season.
Volunteer Wildfire Services
VWS is a not-for-profit that’s fairly active on Facebook and Twitter, even when there isn’t a fire threatening Cape Town’s flora, fauna or citizens.
— VWS Wildfires (@vwsfires) October 16, 2017
The organisation was established in 1999, and is currently based at four stations across the Western Cape housing 220 members. Said members have since “achieved over 56 000 active firefighting hours” collectively between its members and stations.
While its YouTube channel remains dormant, its Twitter and Facebook channels are used to issue timely updates to its followers, and alerts if the weather conditions are favourable for the spread of wildfires.
Working on Fire
“Working on Fire is a government-funded, job-creation programme focusing on implementing Integrated Fire Management in South Africa,” the organisation writes on its website.
— Working on Fire (@wo_fire) October 13, 2017
It employs more than 5000 people across 200 bases across South Africa. Notably, these people are recruited from “marginalised communities and trained in fire awareness and education, prevention and fire suppression skills”.
The organisation has played a major role during last week’s 12 Apostles fire, which affected a vast swathe of Cape Town’s Atlantic Seaboard. It issued regular updates via Facebook and Twitter, and more interestingly, also employed Periscope to livestream events and news directly from the fire lines.
Working on Fire also fights fires nationally.
Table Mountain National Park
The Table Mountain National Park is a 220km2 protected area that forms the spine of the Cape Peninsula, and is managed by SANParks. Thanks to its landmarks that includes its namesake, beaches like Boulders and lookouts like Cape Point, it’s one of Cape Town’s more popular attractions.
Moreover, it’s large swathes of its land that are often on fire during the hot summer months.
Table Mountain National Park’s Facebook page often issues updates on the likelihood of fires in the area, as well as updates during firefighting efforts.
Vulcan Fire Management was founded in 2016 by two former firefighters Ryan Heydenrych and Patrick Ryan.
The company is “about the coming together of raw talent and potential and upholding a specialist approach to managing all aspects of Integrated Fire Management”, reads the company’s mission statement.
“We see our work as a skilled trade which takes a strategic approach to enhance tactical effectiveness. Above all our service must honour a code to serve with duty, respect and integrity,” it continues.
Greater Cederberg Fire Protection Association
Founded in 2005, the Greater Cederberg FPA is based in Porterville, in one of the Western Cape’s driest areas.
— GCFPA (@CederbergFPA) September 26, 2016
Much like its other FPA sister organisations, the Greater Cederberg branch is “composed of landowners, communities and other key role players within the West Coast and part of Cape Winelands District Municipalities“.
The FPA also covers the largest area of its sister associations, known collectively as the Western Cape Umbrella Fire Protection Association.
NCC is an environmental consultancy firm that also happens to have a firefighting unit — the “specialised wildland firefighters” dubbed the NCC Hotshots.
Chances are, if you’ve seen a picture of a fire in the Western Cape, you’ve seen a picture shot by Justin Sullivan.
— Sullivan Photography (@Sullphotography) October 13, 2017
Although he has photographed some of South Africa’s more pressing political issues in recent years, including the Fees Must Fall movement, Sullivan’s core focus is wildfire photography.
While snapping and uploading flames to his various social accounts, Sullivan also issues updates regarding said fires. And often, he provides excellent insights into the lives and extreme working conditions of firefighters on the frontlines.
Cape Peninsula Fire Protection Association
The CPFPA is an association that was initially formed in 2002 which aims to organise “fire fighting activities on the Cape Peninsula mountain chain”.
A post shared by Cape Peninsula FPA (@cape_peninsula_fpa) on
Its members feature officials from the likes of SANParks, Eskom, the City of Cape Town, the South African Navy and SANBI, to name a few.
The association is also tasked with spreading awareness across the province, using signs along the Western Cape’s nature routes, and educating school children through school visits.
City of Cape Town Fire & Rescue
Cape Town Fire & Rescue Services is the official fire brigade that operates within the City of Cape Town’s borders. The brigade has been operational since 1845, and now consists of “30 fire stations serving a population of 3.5 million people and covering an area of over 2 561 square kilometres”.
While it rarely uses its social media accounts, the brigade does play an important role in fighting fires within the city, a wildfire or urban fire.
Greater Overberg Fire Protection Association
The Overberg Fire Protection Association doesn’t explicitly battle fires in Cape Town, but rather the areas around Bredasdorp in the southern Cape.
A post shared by Greater Overberg FPA (@overbergfpa) on
It’s extremely active on social media, issuing updates for current fires, including the Fire Danger Index — an index that aims to predict the likelihood of wildfire occurrences.
The CSIR’s Meraka Institute is a key cog in the South African wildfire prediction and prevention system. Its Advanced Fire Information System, or AFIS, uses satellite data to plot near real-time fire information on the global map.
— AFIS CSIR-Meraka (@MerakaAFIS) January 12, 2017
“AFIS provides users with fire prediction, detection, monitoring, alerting, planning and reporting capabilities through the use of Earth observation satellites, weather forecast models and Information and Communication Technologies,” Meraka adds on its website.
The tool is free for public use as well.
Winelands Fire Protection Association
The Winelands Fire Protection Association is the youngest of the FPAs, founded in 2014. While not a firefighting organisation itself, the Winelands FPA does consist of “landowners who wish to cooperate for the purpose of predicting, preventing, managing and extinguishing veldfires”.
Based in Stellenbosch, it’s one of the smaller FPAs in the Umbrella, but noted that 2017 has been its busiest season on record.
Firewatch Cape Town
Not so much an organisation as it is a Facebook group, Firewatch Cape Town consists of around 6000 members who regularly post news regarding fires across the Cape Peninsula.
The group’s description is adamant that the group be used exclusively as a tool to disseminate important information, and it largely accomplishes this.
While the group is public, you’ll need to wait for approval to join the group.
Southern Cape Fire Protection Association
The SCFPA is the Southern Cape cousin of the Greater Overberg, Winelands and Cape Peninsula FPAs.
Also operating as a non-profit, the SCFPA was founded in 2007 and operates along the Garden Route, covering the likes of Witsand, Knysna, Uniondale and Kannaland.
The organisation is perhaps best known for its efforts during the June 2017 Knysna fires, which left vast swathes of the Garden Route charred.
- Limitless Fire
- Enviro Wildfires
- Betty’s Bay Volunteer Community Fire Fighters
- Pringle Bay Volunteer Community Fire Fighters
- Breede Valley Fire Department (also on Twitter)
- Bellville-North Seasonal Firefighters
- Wildfire Management Services