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South African firefighters dance as they arrive in Canada to help battle wildfires

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South African Firefighters arrive in Edmonton, Alberta

South African Firefighters arrive in Edmonton, Alberta 

Credit:

Courtesy Working on Fire

Nearly 300 South African firefighters broke into song and dance as they arrived at the Edmonton Airport in northern Alberta.

The firefighters came in Sunday to pitch in, responding to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre's call for help fighting Alberta’s massive fires.

They're joining the 2,300 firefighters already battling wildfires that have destroyed more than 2,000 buildings and forced more than 80,000 residents to flee the city of Fort McMurray a few weeks ago.

The Alberta wildfires are now estimated to cover roughly 1.5 million acres, and still pose a huge challenge as they spread into Saskatchewan.

Many of these young firefighters have come through a 10-year-old job creation program called "Working on Fire." Even before they left home, the team attended a firefighting boot camp to prepare for their Canadian assignment.

“South Africa is a water-scarce country so we use more physical manpower on the fire line," says Martin Bolton, who is coordinating the team of South African firefighters as they prepare to deploy in the field. "Some of our Canadian counterparts came over to train us on the power pumps they use in Canada, so we had very good training to prepare for this deployment.”

“It seems quite big, but we're ready,” says Mallahoa Letroibah, one of the South African firefighters. So far she's only seen news clips of the Fort McMurray wildfires, but she says she's ready to dig in and fight the fire.

So why sing and dance after their long flight to Canada?

One way the South African firefighters try to boost their spirits and maintain stamina in the face of hot, hazardous work assignments is to sing.

“After a long day fighting fires, you need some motivation, so we start singing to motivate us all, to get guys going. That’s what it’s all about," Letroibah says. "If we become tired in the fire we sing. It gives us moral courage, it gives us teamwork."  

They'll need it. After a final briefing and equipment tests, the firefighting team travels to Fort McMurray to begin work. 

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