Removing the Fear of fire
Fire! The very word is enough to provoke fear in the heart of anyone who has watched a wildfire, fanned by wind, burn uncontrolled like a tornado of heat, smoke and ash, bringing death and destruction to every living thing in its path.
But now, thanks to pioneering work by a global leader in the field, and the development of the Integrated Fire Managment (IFM) approach, the fear of fire has been replaced by knowledge that fire can be managed in a way that is beneficial to landowners, the environment and to local economies.
And the IFM solution has not come too soon with climatologists and environmentalists warning that climate change is already bringing more hot dry, fire encouraging weather to countries across the globe.
Australia has been singled out as just one country that will feel the impact most, others include Chile, Argentina, Brasil and South Africa, not to mention the West Coast of the USA and Israel which has recently survived wildfire of a duration and intensity never before experienced.
A recent US study published in the the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has found that climate change has doubled the area affected by forest fires in the American west over the last 30 years.
Professional firefighters globally have recognised that there has to be an approach that seeks to prevent wildfire before it is ignited. They need a solution that recognises that fire is critical to a healthy environment and a vital tool for the effective management of land.
“Climate is really running the show in terms of what burns,” says the study. “We should be getting ready for bigger fire years than those familiar to previous generations.”
Now, a solution to this apparent contradiction has been developed by Kishugu in South Africa and successfully implemented across the globe through IFM.
Founded more than two decades ago in South Africa’s rural Mpumalanga province, 350 kilometres from the country’s economic heartland of Johannesburg, Kishugu was founded by Johan Heine, a firefighting pilot and Chris de Bruno Austin, a forester with great experience in ground-based firefighting.
Kishugu developed the concept of IFM and is implementing it through one of its 12 subsidaires, Working on Fire (WoF) in Africa, Australia, Chile, Brazil, the USA and Indonesia.
What made it possible for an entirely different kind of global business to emerge in Mbombela is that the area’s forestry, agricultural and conservation industries have one thing in common: They are all vulnerable to fire in a hot and dry area that often turns into a tinder box.
Today, Kishugu is the world-leading specialist in IFM on five continents. Wildely recognized as international best practice, IFM provides a comprehensive chain of inter-linked services, ranging from fire awareness, fire prevention and early detection activities to risk mapping, hazard identification, prescribed burning, resource sharing and coordination, dispatch of fire prevention and wildfire firefighting resources, damage rehabilitation and research.
“Encompassing all aspects of fire prevention, suppression and recovery, IFM is becoming increasingly important as climate change makes many areas in the world hotter and drier,” says co-CEO Chris de Bruno Austin.
In order to support their ambitious plans to provide the most comprehensive fire prevention, suppression and recovery services, these founders sought out small companies to meet core requirements ranging from aircraft and pilot training and maintenance to ground transport equipment and personal protection gear for firefighters.
In addition to securing contracts from fire-prone private companies and public institutions, the company won a tender in 2003 to implement the South African Government’s Working on Fire (WoF) programme. WOF now employs more than 5 000 fully trained wildland and forest firefighters, working in some 200 teams, making it South Africa’s most successful rural job creation and skills development initiative. Internationally, WOF employs almost 9,000 firefighters and staff.
Kishugu is the Swahili word for an anthill. The name reflects the industriousness of ants, which are “a perfect example of a broad collective that works for the common good”, according to de Bruno Austin.
“We protect millions of hectares of forests and grasslands for governments, forestry companies and commercial land owners,” he continued. “Kishugu has also aligned its activities with other fire prevention and firefighting systems as well as with the United Nations initiatives to combat climate change.”
A major development has been Kishugu’s adoption of the international Incident Command System (ICS). ICS is a systematic, proactive approach, guiding organisations at all levels of government and the private sector to prepare for, prevent, respond to, recover from and mitigate the effects of incidents, regardless of the cause, size, location or complexity.”
On another level, Kishugu has implemented through its Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) subsidiary a Global Environment Facility project to reduce climate change-induced risks in South Africa’s highly vulnerable Fynbos Biome, the world’s smallest but richest floral kingdom, which is expected to become more fire-prone under increasingly hot and dry conditions.
Kishugu PBO offers clients a platform to engage civil society, the private sector, donor and government agencies in partnership efforts to find sustainable solutions to socio-environmental problems.
Kishugu is systematically expanding its international footprint, backed by 11 subsidiaries as it entrenches its position as the world leader in IFM.