South African firefighters sang and danced at an airport in Edmonton, Canada, after arriving to help in fighting wildfires in the province of Alberta. The team of 200 firefighters and 15 managers from South Africa's Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment’s Working on Fire Programme is expected to stay for several weeks to help battle the blazes.
This comes as larger and more powerful wildfires than ever have scorched millions of hectares of Canadian forests and displaced tens of thousands of residents. With so many fires out of control and no relief in sight, the nation is facing a logistical nightmare.
After an early start, it is on course to be the worst wildfire season on record as hot, dry conditions are forecast to continue through August.
"The distribution of fires from coast to coast this year is unusual," said Michael Norton, an official with Canada's Natural Resources ministry. "At this time of year, fires usually occur only on one side of the country at a time, most often in the West."
But in the last month fires have erupted in almost every province across Canada.
As a consequence, Canada has had to juggle resources and call in reinforcements from abroad, including more than 1,000 firefighters from Australia, the United States, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, France, Spain and Portugal.
In a typical year, about 7,500 wildfires burn more than 2.5 million hectares of forests in Canada. So far this year, 2,293 fires have already burned more than 3.8 million hectares. The amount of burned forest area is projected to double by 2050.