South African firefighters arrive eager to help fight Fort McMurray wildfire

Over 280 firefighters from South Africa landed in Edmonton late Sunday night ready to help wildfire relief efforts in Fort McMurray, Alta., singing in unison to give them 'moral courage' for the task at hand.

281 have arrived after a nearly 16,000-kilometre journey that began in Johannesburg Sunday morning

281 firefighters from South Africa landed in Edmonton Sunday, and took time for a quick song before heading north to help fight the Fort McMurray wildfire. 0:33

The first thing the 281 South African firefighters did when they touched down in Edmonton was sing. 

They sang soldier songs — songs of South Africa — while the large crowd gathered there to welcome them cheered. 

Khomt Alucie, one of the firefighters who made the journey, said the group has only known each other for a day and singing is how they bond. 

"It gives us moral courage, it gives us teamwork," she said. "If we become tired in the fire we sing.

"It's not something you practice, it's in the soul."

Keena Chipasoose Half shot this video of the South African firefighters performing for a welcoming crowd at the Edmonton International Airport 2:50

A man who worked in Anzac, a town once evacuated by the fire, personally thanked each one as they walked through the arrival gates. 

"Welcome to Canada, thank you so much," he said, in his other hand he held a Canadian flag tied to a hockey stick.

Alberta's fire information officer Travis Fairweather said earlier the firefighters represented many regions of South Africa. 

"They do that to make sure they maintain even balance so they don't take too many out of one area and leave them too depleted on resources," said Fairweather.

The officers are in Alberta for a standard deployment of 14 days, with the possibility of an extension. 

Canada is part of a program with several other countries run by the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC).

CIFFC co-ordinates requests for assistance from provinces that have exceeded their internal firefighting capacity.

"We know that their training matches our training and we've gone and given them training in the past," said Fairweather. "We know when they get here they can just get off the plane and get right to work."

Working On Fire

A large portion of the South African firefighters have come through a program in their country called "Working On Fire."

The program was implemented over a decade ago and is designed to give young people in that country a job, pulling them out of poverty.

About 280 firefighters from South Africa are coming to help fight the wildfire near Fort McMurray. (Air Canada)

The wildfire that destroyed part of Fort McMurray continues to burn out of control and covers almost 580,000 hectares. The closest the fire is actively burning to the outskirts of the city is just over 25 kilometres away. 

Around 2,300 firefighters are currently battling wildfires in Alberta. Firefighters have been flown in from across Canada and the U.S.

Firefighting conditions were expected to improve over the weekend due to higher humidity and a potential for rain.

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