Worcester Standard

Be prepared for fire emergencies

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Be prepared for any fire emergency this coming festive season.
Be prepared for any fire emergency this coming festive season.

Fires are commonly experienced across the Western Cape during the festive season, particularly in informal settlement areas.

Each year thousands of informal structures are raised to the ground during the festive season, leaving scores of families homeless as well as claiming many lives.

The Western Cape Department of Human Settlements strongly urges residents in informal settlements and backyard dwellings to practise fire safety during this festive period.

Most fires are caused by lack of thought, concentration or carelessness. lit cigarette butts, fire lighters, matches, candles, illegal and overloaded electrical connections and heating appliances, such as paraffin stoves, can all be lethal if not properly monitored.

Due to informal structures often being so close to each other, fires often spread quickly and can result in many structures being burnt to the ground, serious injuries, destruction of property, and in some instances possible death.

The Provincial Minister of Infrastructure, Tertuis Simmers, said: “The Western Cape is often marked by devastating fires during a time of the year that should be marked with happiness and joy in our communities. The extent of the fires only varies, based on the density of an area and the ability of emergency vehicles to gain access to the affected area of an informal settlement.

These fires are largely caused by open flame sources and overloaded illegal electrical connections. Residents can assist to prevent these unfortunate incidences by being prepared, vigilant and practicing safety measures.

Some preparation is always better when dealing with a crisis, particularly during this time of the year.”

To assist in preventing fires, residents in informal areas should ensure that their structures are at least 3 metres apart. This will prevent the fire from spreading rapidly.

In terms of preparedness, it is advisable to have a “grab bag” ready during this period. It should ideally contain important documents, medicines and valuables in the event of an emergency.

Some additional tips to assist in preventing fires include:

  • Ensuring all stoves are on a stable surface
  • Ensuring candles are placed in a candleholder, or cutting a long candle in half to prevent it from falling over
  • Discard cigarettes in a safe container and ensure they are completely put out
  • Keep a bucket with water handy to extinguish small fires when they start
  • Keep a bucket of sand nearby when using a paraffin appliance. Water will not put out a paraffin fire and can be extinguished only by using sand or a fire extinguisher
  • All open fires must be extinguished before leaving the area or go to sleep
  • Ensure there is enough ventilation when cooking food inside your dwelling
  • If clothing catches fire, stop, drop to the ground, cover your face with your hands and roll around the floor to smother the flames.. If another person catches fire, smother the flames by wrapping them in a blanket, mat or carpet
  • Never lock your door from the inside using a padlock; instead, use a shooter for easy unlocking should a fire occurr
  • Keep roads and the access to informal areas clear at all times so that emergency vehicles can move around easily.

Western Cape Human Settlements Director of Communication and Stakeholder Relations, Nathan Adriaanse added: “It is very important for everyone please to obey any instructions from firefighters, police or municipal officers responding to an emergency during or following a fire. Officials are there to prevent the destruction of property and to save lives. Community cooperation is vital during an emergency.”

Earlier this year, the National Department of Human Settlements announced new directives applicable to deal with natural disasters, such as floods, thunderstorms and fires, which will allow the department to use available funds from various grants to intervene in dealing with disasters.

In the event of a disaster the department may be able to assist with funds for emergency relief, with approval from the National Department of Human Settlements.

Relevant municipalities are required to apply for funds required to attend to emergency relief.

All Western Cape residents are encouraged to have emergency numbers saved on your phone or printed out for easy access.

These include the numbers for your nearest police office, fire station and ambulance services. In case of an emergency residents can also call 112 from their cellphone.

“With some preparedness and safety measures in place, residents can safely enjoy the festive season with family and friends,” said Simmers.

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