Exemplary Firewise Lessons from South Africa

Albert Schweitzer once said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”

In that spirit, let me share with you some of the wonderful examples I observed from South African communities applying Firewise.

From the affluent Western Cape coast to the poorest of villages in the central part of the country, South Africans are overcoming language and cultural differences, extreme poverty, high unemployment and high fire risks to use Firewise principles to their advantage. The government-sponsored Working on Fire program has used Firewise principles from the U.S. to help community residents take ownership of their fire risks, to train people on the safe use of fire, and to turn both fire problems and some of the economic problems around.

Working on Fire piloted Firewise concepts in a handful of communities and were provided with seed funding last year for wage incentive programs to train wildland firefighters. This year, the government has seen the results and tripled their investment these successful, community-based programs. 

Thankfully, Working on Fire has documented these pilot efforts in a series of short and powerful videos available on the Firewise South Africa website as well as on their YouTube channel, WoFAfriFireNet. Watch and learn what these folks have done in a country with far fewer financial resources than the United States. Hear from community “sparkplugs,” like Levy  Majikijela of Queen's Mercy, and from Working on Fire outreach staff like Zanele Nxumalo from KwaZulu Natal.  I hope the good examples in these videos can inspire communities in the U.S. to work together to become safer from wildfire threats.

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Michele Steinberg
Director, Wildfire Division, Disaster safety educator, land use planning advocate. Believes we can end home destruction from wildfires.