The City of Cape Town appeals to residents to be especially cautious during the warmer months between October and April when Cape Town is at a high risk for uncontrolled and runaway vegetation fires. The combination of high temperatures and gale force South-Easterly winds is a major contributing factor in the rapid spread of fires.
There are two main types of fire in Cape Town – vegetation and structural – and both can be prevented in most cases. Vegetation fires that occur in mountainous areas are particularly dangerous because of inaccessibility and limited water supply. The City’s Fire and Rescue Services deal with more than 8 000 vegetation fires every year, most of which occur in summer. The City has employed 120 seasonal firefighters on a contract basis from November to April. They are trained to fight veld fires and are deployed at various fire stations to assist firefighters.
Informal settlements are at a high-risk for the rapid spread of structural fires. The rate of spread is directly influenced by the materials used in construction of settlements and the distance between each structure. It is essential that the residents of informal settlements:
- limit ignition sources
- keep areas around heating and cooking devices clear of any material and
- keep roadways around the structures clear of obstructions to allow emergency vehicles to move around under emergency conditions.
The vandalism of fire hydrants is another serious concern. Damaged hydrants hamper firefighters when additional water supply is required to assist in extinguishing fires. Please report a damaged fire hydrant to 0860 103 089, so that it can be repaired as soon as possible.
The City appeals to the public to please report any fires to the Public Emergency Call Centre on 107 from a landline or 021 480 7700 from a cell phone. Enter the number on your cell phone as a speed dial.
Please remember the following tips – you could prevent a potential disaster:
- No fires are allowed on the mountain fringe areas except in specifically demarcated areas and pre-authorised areas. If you are unsure whether fires are allowed in an area, do not make a fire.
- Do not discard burning cigarettes from your vehicle. They are pollutants and one of the causes of vegetation fires. Use the ashtray in the vehicle.
- Ensure that fire hydrants remain unobstructed at all times, especially by parked vehicles. Tampering with hydrants can delay a firefighter’s ability to bring a fire under control timeously.
- Ensure your braai or cooking fire is completely extinguished before leaving areas where fires are allowed.
- Keep ignition sources such as matches and lighters out of reach of children.
- Comply with the legal requirements for burning vegetation off-cuts (Please see City of Cape Town Community Safety By-law and National Veld Forest Act or refer to www.capetown.gov.za for more information.
- Buy a fire extinguisher and keep it in an accessible place in your home
- Every home should have more than one exit to ensure escape if a fire breaks out.
- Informal homes should be built at least three metres apart to stop fires from spreading.
- Keep matches, lighters, paraffin and poisons out of reach of young children.
- Use child-proof caps on flammable products such as paraffin.
- Extinguish all candles and lamps before going to bed or leaving the house.
- Avoid smoking in bed – it is dangerous.
- Keep stoves on a flat surface away from drafts and flammable objects.
- Never leave fires and cooking stoves unattended.
- Always keep a bucket of sand and a bucket of water handy, in case a fire breaks out.
- Switch off all electrical appliances when not in use.
- Do not overload plug points.
- Switch your heater off before going to sleep
Using electricity safely
- Do not overload your electrical circuits – in other words, don’t keep more than four plugs on one extension
- Service your electrical components regularly and replace faulty ones
- Switch off all electrical appliances at the wall at night or when leaving your home
- When you are cooking (on any sort of stove, gas, electric or paraffin), do not leave the pot on the stove unless you are watching it.
- Electrical connections must be professionally installed and properly earthed with the correct circuit breakers installed.
Using paraffin safely
- Always handle paraffin with extreme care, as it is poisonous and can burn your skin even if unlit. Paraffin is often sold in containers contaminated with chemicals such as petrol, or mixed with methylated spirits. This can cause it to flare dangerously or even explode
- Paraffin can cause severe burns, and paraffin stoves that are knocked over or explode are a major cause of injuries and fires in informal settlements. Paraffin also emits harmful fumes when ignited
- Never leave a paraffin appliance unattended. It only takes a second for a gust of wind, pet or child to knock over a light or stove
- Make sure paraffin appliances are on a flat, firm surface
- Do not put a cloth under a paraffin appliance. A child or pet could pull the trailing end and the cloth will then burn, fuelling the fire
- Always have a bucket of sand nearby when using a paraffin appliance. Water will not extinguish a paraffin fire and can make matters worse by spreading the flames. Paraffin fires can only be extinguished using sand or a fire extinguisher
Safety around an open flame
- Keep matches and lighters out of children’s reach
- Cut candles in half to prevent them falling over – and use a candle holder
- Do not smoke in bed!
How to prevent shack fires
- Keep a close eye on paraffin stoves. Don’t cook near a window with a curtain
- Make sure the stove doesn’t fall over, which may burn children or cause a fire
- Make sure candles are secure and can’t fall over. Don’t go to sleep with candles still burning
- Teach children about the dangers of fire
- Watch out for discarded cigarette butts
- Be aware of the dangers of illegal and faulty electricity connections, which also cause fires
- Keep a bucket handy to fill with water so that you can extinguish flames easily
- Keep a bucket of sand to put out paraffin fires
- Build dwellings a good distance (at least three metres) apart to prevent fires from spreading. Make sure this space is kept open
- Keep roads and access to dwellings clear at all times
- Do not block roads with possessions when there is a fire
- Do not prevent or disrupt the work of fire crews fighting fires
Next: Sunday Open Thread