Over the 2016/2017 hot and dry summer season an amazing group of seven EBE students were kept very busy fighting wildfires as members of the Volunteer Wildfire Services (VWS). Cape Town experienced devastating fires, and it was reported that on one day alone, there were 106 different fires that firefighters were fighting. The dry, windy conditions in the Cape and made their job extremely difficult.
Back row (left to right) Jason Arnold (4th year Electrical Mechanical- Active member since 2015), Nathanael Boulle (4th Mechanical Engineering- Active member since 2016), Anja Mühr (3rd Year Electrical and Computer Engineering -Active member since 2015), David Le Roux – (Graduated Civil Engineering 2016 Active member since 2013)
Bottom row (left to right) Christopher Knutsen (4th year Mechanical Engineering - Active member since 2015), Ryan Hudson (4th year Mechanical Engineering -Active member since 2016), Alex Brock (3rd year Chemical Engineering -Active member since 2014)
Chris Knutsen has just finished his second season as an active member of VWS and said he was inspired by the brave men and women who put their lives on the line to save not only people’s homes but also the beautiful landscape. Chris has spent over 100 hours on the fire line. “Being on the fire line can only be described as an incredible and breath-taking experience,” he said. “Although it can be tough fighting fire in the blazing sun or working on harsh terrain, at the end of the day it is so rewarding knowing that you have played a part in putting the fire out.”
VWS has approximately 220 members at four stations (Newlands, Jonkershoek, South Peninsula and the newly developing Grabouw Station). It is fully run and managed by the volunteers. They have assisted the Table Mountain National Park, CapeNature, Overberg District Municipality and Winelands District Municipality with some of the wildest fires Cape Town and the Western Cape have experienced.
Ryan Hudson, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student, joined VWS in 2016. He said, “I am a keen hiker, very fond of the mountains, and thus have a vested interest in helping keep the Cape Biome to a health fire cycle.” The training season is outside the fire season from April/May to November. Ryan has responded to ten fires during this season.
Hudson says that fighting fires is intense. “You are usually constantly in a state of exhaustion, drenched in your own sweat if not soaked from helicopter water drops, unable to breathe properly from the choking smoke that surrounds you, trying to replenish your bodily fluids under a baking hot sun on top of a mountain, facing searing heat from both the flames in front of you and the ground under your feet. There's also a human instinct that resists you walking toward huge flames. However, it is certainly a thrilling experience.”
“There is a place for everyone whether it be fighting fire, driving crews to and from the fire or helping the planning office,” Knutsen added. “I would like to encourage anyone who is keen to join the Volunteer Wildfire Services. What makes the experience more enjoyable, are the other people who volunteer in the unit.” He said we call them our ‘yellow family.’ When you step onto the fire line, you know that the other eight members of your crew have your back.
We take our hats off to these young people who volunteer their time to keep us safe and protect our precious landscape.
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