South African crews launch musical assault on Canadian wildfires

A dozen firefighters from South Africa are helping battle blazes in western Canada -- singing every step of the way

First trip for South African firefighters to Canada creating musical memories in Alberta and B.C.

South African firefighters produce hot music

Our Edmonton

6 years ago
Watch this video of a visiting fire crew creating some motivational music before heading out to douse hot spots near Slave Lake, Alberta. 3:15

In a work camp tucked away in the bush of the boreal forest northeast of Slave Lake, a concert is going on.

A dozen young, fit firefighters from South Africa  — dressed in hard hats, coveralls and heavy workboots — start their day by dancing, clapping and singing.

It's a wake-up call for the Canadian crews, many of who pull out their cell phones to record the acapella offering.

"We can sing and we are trying to build the morale of the team" said Jonas Matlala, 26. 

The journey is the first trip to Canada for both Jonas Matlala and Constance Mavuso . (Adrienne Lamb)
Matlala is part of the South African government program called Working On Fire.

The program was designed a dozen years ago to alleviate poverty and give young people in that country a job and a purpose in life.

Now more than 5,000 firefighters, like Constance Mavuso, are trained to international standards and ready to travel anywhere in the world.

One of Mavuso's jobs in northern Alberta is to hunt for smoldering hot spots and snuff them out. However, Canada's wildfires are not what the 28-year-old is used to.

"Mostly we fight grass fires," she said. 

While in Canada, visiting fire crews are tackling stubborn ground fires — ones that burrow into the peat and underbrush, just waiting for a gust of wind to breath life into the buried embers.

Workers from South Africa, Mexico, United States, Australia and New Zealand answered the Alberta government's call for assistance during this busy fire season. 

Forest fire number 163 was started by lightening on June 30th, 2015 and is now under control. (Adrienne Lamb)
Mavuso and a couple dozen other workers have spent the last month in the forests of northern Alberta and B.C..

They've learned about our climate, bugs and fire-fighting techniques. Mavuso says she is thrilled to be given the chance to help protect nature.

"This job is very important to us because I'm able to save another country," she said. 

The South African crew will return home this week, in time for the start of their own fire season in the east of their country, singing as they go.


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