Fiery bestseller raises R400 000 for essential services

July 29 2016

The Cape Aflame Project, a citizen-led initiative born of the March 2015 Muizenberg wildfire that ravaged the Central Section of Table Mountain National Park (TMNP), destroyed several homes across the Cape Peninsula and caused injury to several firefighters, donated R400 000 to four Cape-based essential-service organisations at a function held at TMNP’s Newlands Fire Base on Tuesday evening.

The Cape Peninsula Fire Protection Association (CPFPA), the Cape of Good Hope SPCA Wildlife and Horse Care Units, the SANParks Honorary Rangers (Table Mountain Region) and Volunteer Wildfire Services (VWS) have earmarked the donation, in equal parts, for specific projects.

Representatives of animal-welfare and wildfire firefighting organisations attended the handover ceremony at the TMNP Newlands Fire Base, as did firefighters and pilots who fought the blaze

.The R400 000 was raised through sales of The Cape Aflame – Cape Town’s Dance with Fire, a high-quality, image-rich coffee-table publication. The book is a permanent record of the Muizenberg Fire and a detailed, educative case study of integrated wildfire management in the Western Cape’s Fynbos Biome.

Earlier this year, a leading travel and outdoor lifestyle magazine called it “...the definitive story of the Muizenberg Fire” and “...a graphic case study for everyone interested in Cape Town’s precious fynbos biome and conservation in general.” It is, it said, “...a moving human-interest story, told in a documentary style with drama and intensity.”

Thanking his team, contributing photographers, participating organisations and individuals, Cape Aflame Project Lead Kevin Gleeson related how the group, motivated by Capetonians’ support for the firefighting effort, took on the project “at risk” and used an aggressive online and social-media marketing campaign to turn over close on R1 million.

Working with independent retailers and public events supportive of the venture, the team was able to cover its costs and raise the donated funds by selling 2 650 copies within seven months of publication.

150 copies of The Cape Aflame – Cape Town’s Dance with Fire (R395 including VAT) remain available to the public through participating retail outlets. Details may be found at capeaflame.com. The Cape Aflame Project, a division of the Cape Peninsula Fire Protection Association (CPFPA), can be contacted at enquiries@capeaflame.org.

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Jennifer Fill

February 11 2016

When American postdoctoral student and volunteer firefighter Jen Fill’s kit and uniform were stolen out of the boot of her car in Stellenbosch earlier in January, her first thought was not: ‘Am I safe?’, ‘Where is my other stuff?’ or ‘Is my car damaged?’

It was: ‘I need to replace everything as soon as possible so that I can get back on the fire line’.

Jen (28), who completed her training with the Volunteer Wildfire Services (VWS) last year and responded to her first fire call in December, was devastated by the loss.

“My devastation was not just because I lost valuable items. It was because I lost what allowed me to see the various moods of fire in nature while working alongside my “yellow family”. My sense of urgency to re-kit myself stemmed from the knowledge that until I was equipped again, I couldn’t laugh and work with them on the line.”

Her uniform was found and as soon as the news about Jen’s misfortune spread, members of her home base in Jonkershoek started pledging money and items to replace what she had lost. Within 24 hours she was better equipped than before the theft.

“I wasn’t going to tell the team because I thought it was my problem to solve. But then it leaked on theWhatsapp group and people started responding… It felt as if the life was seeping back into me. I thought: ‘People care about me!’ I’ve never had a group of people react like that.”

Barely a day after receiving her new kit, Jen was part of one of the VWS crews responding to the fire blazing in Elgin. In less than a week, she had been on the fire line four times: Twice in Elgin and twice at the Simonsberg fire near Stellenbosch.

“In the USA, I was involved with prescribed fires. After experiencing several wildfires here, I’m beginning to appreciate the art of handling these two types of fires. Although you can never truly control fire, you tend to have more control over prescribed fires: The art of completing such a ‘controlled’ fire lies in your ability to light it and work with the weather conditions and terrain that you have selected. You have picked the characters for this story and direct them as best you can.

“With a wildfire, you must take the story you are given with all the characters and conditions at the time, and try to make the story end in a good way.”

The VWS has become this native from Boston’s home, and the members her “yellow family”. It is a perfect fit for her – a volunteer organisation she could join without needing prior experience or qualifications. All she needed was a passion to fight fires and a willingness to complete the necessary training.

“What has impressed me most about the VWS is the dedication, selfless commitment and unconditional friendship of the team. Over the course of training, and especially on the fire line, I’ve realised that the irresistible call to participate is really because of the profound friendships and camaraderie that accompany a mentally and physically demanding experience.

“I’ve been amazed at what members sacrifice to be on the line. For instance, on Christmas Eve, these folks fought a huge fire until late in the evening, forgoing festivities with family and friends to protect local communities from a rapidly spreading fire.Even so, the hilarious banter and support didn’t miss a beat. That’s the kind of passionand commitment to community that’s the heart of the VWS.

“We laugh, we struggle, but we hold on as a team and try to give the story a happy ending.”

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Being a volunteer

February 11 2016

It’s hard to describe how the thought of

fire consumes you.

How you balance your other responsibilities with the desire to be part of the action. How you struggle to stay awake at work when you’ve been out on the fire line all night. How hard it is to say no to a call-out even when your body is screaming for rest. How proud you feel of a job well done. How humbled you feel when faced by the gratitude and generosity of the communities affected by fire.

Being a volunteer firefighter is not something you can feel lukewarm about.

“My whole life revolves around fire. Fighting it, waiting to fight it and planning in case we have to fight it,” says Ian Smit (47).

He is an accountant by profession and the financial partner at a matrass and bedding manufacturer. He is a husband and father of two teenage daughters. When he fights fires, he does it in his free time. Ian is a member of the Volunteer Wildfire Services (VWS) and in the past week he had spent time on fire line at both the Elgin (Overberg) and Simonsberg (Stellenbosch) fires.

“Ijoined VWS as a way to give back to the community and because I love the outdoors and adventure, and this combines both.”

On paper VWS members don’t have much in common. They vary in age from students to people who are retired, they all have different day jobs and they live in towns and suburbs all over the Peninsula and Boland.

But what binds them together is quite significant – a desire to protect and preserve the environment, to give something back to the community and to be part of a passionate group of volunteers.

Carin de Villiers (58) from Paarl, former parliamentary affairs manager for Eskom, is no stranger to the VWS. Her two sons, both in their twenties, have been members of the organisation for a number of years. She and her eldest son Jacques both responded to call-outs to the Elgin fire as well as the Stellenbosch fire a few days later.

“The incredible amount of time and effort people, particularly young people, are putting into this organisation to help our environment has been a real eye-opener. They are dedicated and truly volunteers of the highest order,” says Carin.

It was also Carin who mentioned during a conversation about donations that “The generosity of South Africans is mind boggling. It is at times like this that I think the true spirit of this country is displayed”.

Businesses, schools, community groups and individuals become part of the story. Food, water, sweets and even personalised snack packs with pictures drawn on brown paper bags – people give freely. But as one volunteer said to a friend who had asked what was needed: “Why don’t you join and give your time?”

Theo van Rensburg (42), pack house manager on a farm near Villiersdorp, believes everyone van make a difference in fighting the “crazy fires roaring in the Western Cape”.

Jen Fill (28), an American post-doctoral fellow at Stellenbosch University, is no stranger to fires.

“In the USA, I was involved with prescribed fires. Although you can never truly control fire, you tend to have more control over prescribed fires: The art of completing such a ‘controlled’ fire lies in your ability to light it and work with the weather conditions and terrain that you have selected. You have picked the characters for this story and direct them as best you can.

“With a wildfire, you must take the story you are given with all the characters and conditions at the time, and try to make the story end in a good way.”

The VWS has become this native from Boston’s home, and the members her “yellow family”.

“What has impressed me most about the VWS is the dedication, selfless commitment and unconditional friendship of the team. Over the course of training, and especially on the fire line, I’ve realised that the irresistible call to participate is really because of the profound friendships and camaraderie that accompany a mentally and physically demanding experience.

“We laugh, we struggle, but we hold on as a team and try to give the story a happy ending.”

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Cape Town Fire – How to Help

October 28 2015

Thank you all for your kind and generous support!

The offers of support and assistance have been overwhelming, and we are indeed very grateful. At this stage we are well taken care of as regards food and refreshments, as the public response has been to ‘cook up a storm’!

Should you wish to assist us with other much needed operational costs, such as fuel, vehicles, uniforms, firefighting equipment, then please consider making a once-off donation or setting up a monthly pledge (no amount is too small)

http://www.vws.org.za/?page_id=338

INTERNET BANKING
Set up a recurring payment to:
Volunteer Wildfire Services
Nedbank
Account 1083321226
Foreshore Branch 108309
Reference: Name & NWL

CREDIT CARD
Set up a monthly payment via our secure GivenGain portal (opens in a new page).
Use “PLG NWL” and your NAME and SURNAME as your reference.

Email newlands@vws.org.za and finance@vws.org.za your proof of payment or to let us know you have set up a monthly pledge so we can thank you and record your contact details.

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Seven Days, Eight Call Outs

October 28 2015

Seven days, seven call outs would have would been a catchy title but that was not the case last week as VWS was called out to more fires than there were days in the week. It turned out to be one of the busiest weeks so far this season for the VWS with all three stations being involved in the multitude of call outs with Jonkershoek station assisting CapeNature with four calls and combined Newlands / South Peninsula teams responding to four requests for help from Table Mountain National Park (TMNP).

In a busy week, with many more fires than just those we responded to, the VWS was a vital resources for both CapeNature and TMNP as resources were stretched very thin by the weekend. Other fires also raged in Gordon’s Bay and Grabouw which kept other fire departments hands full.

The VWS week started in Vredehoek below the slopes of Table Mountain with the wildfire threatening homes before it headed up a deep steep-sided gully that put teams to the test on many fronts – thankfully, due to the quick response of all parties, no homes were lost and no one was injured. Next Jonkershoek station were called into action for the next three days for fires in Wemmershoek area (two) and Simonsberg with all teams assisting with containing and mopping up the respective fires until late into the night.

But the most noticeable fire for Cape Town residents was the Signal Hill fire that was caught by a howling South-Easter and raced up to the top of the hill in no time despite the best efforts of all teams – but it was the ground crews and chopper pilots who had the last say as the fire was contained there. As the light faded the mountain was aglow with hot spots. Our crews spent many hours securing the lines into the early morning.

The week was topped of by just as busy a weekend with all four stand by crews required to respond to fires. It was through this quick intervention assisting TMNP that two fires where kept small in Ocean View and, with helicopter assistance by the Working on Fire helicopters, on the slopes above Hout Bay.

A big thank you must go out to the volunteers who responded to the calls – your dedication to holding the line between fire and fynbos is what helps saves homes and our natural heritage. During this last week VWS volunteers had contributed over 5000 hours to fighting wildfires this season alone – a great achievement but also a sign of the need for the VWS volunteers and things to come.

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