Johannesburg – Johannesburg-based Jonathan Frost has spent years trying to find a solution to the problem of shack fires in and around the city.Through many trial and error tests and experiments, Frost and his colleague, Peter Barthel, finally came up with a chemical applicant that can be used to prevent fires spreading through dwellings in places such as informal settlements."[It is] a fire-proofing material that you can apply on to any structure for example glass [or] metal surfaces for your informal settlements. We want to prevent the spread of fire from the source hence securing the rest of the dwellings surrounding them so that they don't get damaged," he told News24 on Tuesday.The idea was one of 17 others earmarked by the City of Johannesburg's 'Jozi My Beginning' initiative that has set aside R50 million to fund innovative business ideas aimed at benefiting the public, creating jobs and enriching the lives of local residents.Jozi My BeginningEarlier, Johannesburg Mayor Mpho Parks Tau had congratulated the 17 businesses selected out of the 2 003 that had applied.The Jozi My Beginning initiative fell under the city's Jozi@Work programme that is aimed at tapping into local talents of residents within communities to help advance the city.He emphasised how vital it was for the businesses to provide local solutions to local problems, saying it should not always be on the shoulders of the municipality.Tau also emphasised the need for these businesses to be able to compete successfully nationally and internationally."It is these local solutions to local problems that help us grow enterprises into not only locally competitive enterprises but into internationally competitive enterprises."So for us it is not just about creating businesses that are competitive at a local level, it is in our ability to take these businesses and grow them into national and international competitive businesses," Tau said.This would ultimately allow the businesses to grow and compete in the market, creating jobs and helping the economy, he said.Some pictures of the fire retardant chemical being applied onto a house. (Supplied)Prevention the main word According to Frost, the chemical retardant can be applied to the inside of an informal home made up of timber frames and metal parts."The chemicals will reduce the burn properties of wood and wood products and will give shack dwellers a chance to either douse the fire or to vacate the shack in time. It will also prevent spreading of fires to adjacent shacks," Frost said.The chemical solution was easy to apply and would be applied as one would apply plaster on a wall, he said. There would be initial training involved with individuals in the community interested in using the product, and they would then get an opportunity to start their own business in their respective communities, selling the product to the residents."You hear about it all the time... informal settlements burning, fires spreading rapidly throughout the dwellings and informal settlements, and we just thought about a way that we can prevent that spread of fire... prevention is the main word," Frost said.The product was yet to be given the green light as it had to undergo health and safety tests.Frost said he was happy that the city was investing in innovative business ideas and was shocked when he received news that his idea had been picked as one of the Top 17."We are very privileged to have been chosen to apply and present from 2 003 people to 17. It actually took me by surprise. It's a learning curve and it's exciting times, I'm looking forward to it," Frost said.Some pictures of the fire retardant chemical being applied onto a house in construction. (Supplied)Shack fires common cause of deathShack fires are one of the most common causes of death for residents living in informal settlements across the country.Last month, a man from Matholeville informal settlement in Roodepoort died due to smoke inhalation after his shack caught alight. A day before the man's death, at least 25 people had been left homeless after a fire gutted nine informal structures in Strand, Western Cape.In a separate incident, also in the Western Cape, 80 shacks were destroyed in Kayamandi, Stellenbosch.In one of the biggest fires so far this year, at least 600 people were displaced in Masiphumelele, an informal settlement in Cape Town after the blaze two months ago when 150 homes were burnt to the ground.A month before that, residents of Imizamo Yethu were forced to rebuild their lives after a fire destroyed 60 informal dwellings and had displaced 240 residents.At least 1 000 people were left homeless after a fire destroyed 500 shacks in December.In December last year, the City of Johannesburg expressed concern over a spate of shack fires which had left hundreds displaced.Some 527 residents in the Denver informal settlement were forced to sleep in the community hall and at the local day care centre after 252 shacks were burnt to the ground.