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:
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.