Informal settlements residents urged to practice fire safety this festive season | Western Cape Government


Informal settlements residents urged to practice fire safety this festive season

12 December 2022

Fires are commonly experienced across the Western Cape during the festive season, particularly in informal settlement areas. In December 2020. Masiphumelele was declared a disaster area following a fire where more than 1000 structures burned down, leaving over 5000 people homeless just after Christmas. The Western Cape Department of Human Settlements strongly urges residents in informal settlements and backyard dwellings to practice fire safety during this festive period.

Most fires are caused by lack of thought, concentration or carelessness. 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 than 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. The “grab bag” should ideally contain important documents, medicines and valuables in the event of an emergency. Some additional tips to assist in preventing fires include:

  • Ensuring that all stoves are on a stable surface.
  • Ensuring that candles are placed in a candleholder, or cutting a long candle in half to prevent it 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 only be extinguished using sand or a fire extinguisher.
  • All open fires must be extinguished before you leave the area or go to sleep.
  • Ensure that there is enough ventilation when cooking food inside your dwelling.
  • If your clothing catches fire, stop, drop to the ground, cover your face with your hands and roll around of 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 occur.
  • 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 that “it is very important for everyone to please obey any instructions from firefighters, police, or municipal officials 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, that will allow the Department to utilise 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 SAPS 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.

Media Enquiries: 

Nathan Adriaanse
Director Communication & Stakeholder Relations
Tell: 021 483 2868
Mobile: 083 263 1720


Mr. Graig-Lee Smith
Spokesperson for Minister Tertuis Simmers
Tel: 021 483 5224
Mobile: 066 396 8382