Firefighters fill the once-empty airport halls with music as they make their grand entrance into the province.

More than one hundred men and women from South Africa will be helping tame the fires ravaging parts of Manitoba.

With 143 fires currently burning across the province on Wednesday morning, David Schafer, Director of Wildfire Service in Manitoba, knew they were in need of help.

"Looking back a couple of weeks ago, we recognized that during this period we needed some extra assistance. We had just had support from the Canadian Armed Forces and we had 120 of their members assisting on fires and their first deployment is ending," Schafer says, standing in Arrivals at the Winnipeg Richardson International Airport Wednesday afternoon. "Unless those rains continue, we have a lot of work ahead of us heading into the fall time."

While not as loud as the fires, a buzz, and singing, inside the Richardson Airport is audible as the doors to International Arrivals finally open. More than one hundred men and women from South Africa have arrived. Despite the long flight, they enter a corridor, singing and smiling, proudly carrying the South African flag.

This singing continues while they turn the hall's corner to do COVID-19 testing, long after they passed a watchful crowd.

"The singing is part of our culture. In fact, when they are working, to get the rhythm working they tend to work in song," Trevor Abrahams, the groups' Managing Director and team leader says. 

trevor abrahamsAbrahams says their firefighters have been given the training to understand Canadian wildlife, tools, and cultures.

Abrahams' team is trained as part of the International Wildfire Training standards. This is their first time in Manitoba, but not in Canada.

Once they get in gear, the firefighters will be split up, working to control fires in the east side of Lake Winnipeg and in north-west Manitoba near The Pas, Cranberry, and Portage la Prairie in 12- 14 hour shifts. They will work in 14-day stretches, taking breaks between. They could work as many as three rounds of the two-week stretches.

walkingA total of 114 South Africans will be fighting fires across Manitoba.

They are going to be working alongside our crews, supporting the effort, really trying to extinguish the existing fires that we have so that our initial attack is to focus their efforts on some of the new fires," Schafer says.

Back home in South Africa, Abrahams says they are not presently concerned about fires, making it easier for 105 of the country's four thousand firefighters and nine managers to make the trip to Manitoba. 

"They are quite revved up at the moment as you can see. They are quite anxious to get going," Abrahams says.

If Manitoba needs more support, the South Africans will return home, and other countries with the group of international wildfire firefighters could replace them.