Be Fire Alert | Western Cape Government

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Be Fire Alert

(Department of Local Government, Western Cape Government)

Every day South Africans experience the horror of fire. But most people don't understand the dangers fire can cause. Only when we know the true nature of fire can we start to prepare ourselves and our families. Each year thousands of people die and are injured in fires, many of which could be prevented.

The Fire Brigade Services (FBS), a part of Western Cape Disaster Management, believes fire deaths can be reduced by teaching people the basic facts about fire:

Fire is Fast

In less than 30 seconds a small flame can get completely out of control and turn into a major fire. It only takes minutes for thick black smoke to fill a house. In minutes, a house can be engulfed in flames. Most fires occur in the home when people are asleep. If you wake up to a fire, you won’t have time to grab valuables because fire spreads too quickly and the smoke is too thick. There is only time to escape.

Heat is More Threatening than Flames

A fire's heat alone can kill. Room temperatures in a fire can be 100 degrees at floor level and rise to 600 degrees at eye level. Inhaling this super-hot air will scorch your lungs. This heat can melt clothes to your skin. In just a couple of minutes a room can get so hot that everything in it ignites at once – this is called flashover.

Fire is Dark

Fire starts bright, but quickly produces black smoke and complete darkness.

If you wake up to a fire you may be blinded, disoriented and unable to find your way around the home you've lived in for years.

Smoke and Toxic Gases Kill More People than Flames Do

Fire uses up the oxygen you need and produces smoke and poisonous gases that kill. Breathing even small amounts of smoke and toxic gases can make you drowsy, disoriented and short of breath. The odourless, colourless fumes can lull you into a deep sleep before the flames reach your door. You may not wake up in time to escape.

Fire Survival Tips

In the event of a fire, remember that time is the biggest enemy and every second counts.

  • Escape first, then call for help. Develop a home fire escape plan and designate a meeting place outside.
  • Make sure everyone in the family knows two ways to escape from every room.
  • Practise feeling your way out with your eyes closed. Never stand up in a fire, always crawl low under the smoke and try to keep your mouth covered.
  • Practice your home escape plan frequently with your family.
  • Never return to a burning building for any reason; it may cost you your life.
  • Finally, having a working smoke alarm dramatically increases your chances of surviving a home fire.

Outdoor Fire Safety

Open fires are a common cause of uncontrolled fires in the Western Cape. It is a good idea not to start a fire when it is hot, dry and windy.

Check with your local fire protection association or fire department before making fires outside. On certain days fires will be prohibited, be aware of the daily "fire danger" rating.

Braai Safety Tips:

  • Children should never be allowed to start a gas or wood braai or play near the braai area.
  • Keep a braai well away from any surrounding vegetation or flammable materials, structures, children and pets.
  • Protect yourself by wearing a heavy apron and an oven mitt that fits high up over your forearm.
  • Always wear short sleeve shirts or roll sleeves up when braaing.
  • Never use a braai indoors. Apart from the danger of causing a fire in your home, it can also cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Never use a flammable liquid (e.g. petrol, paraffin) to start a braai fire. Only use paper, kindling or store bought fire-lighters.
  • Never use any kind of fuel to re-ignite or build up a fire – this is certainly one of the most dangerous practices that can be considered.
  • Soak the coals with water before you discard them.
  • For gas braais, always store the gas cylinder outside, make sure the valve is not leaking and ensure it is properly turned off when not in use.
  • Before lighting a gas braai, check all connections with soapsuds (use a soap and water solution). If bubbles appear at any connection when opening the valve, a qualified lp gas specialist must repair the leak before use.

Campfire Safety Tips:

  • Use designated fire places and facilities in parks and recreation sites - they are designed to reduce the chance of your fire escaping.
  • Children must never be allowed to make a fire without adult supervision.
  • Never leave a burning or smouldering outdoor fire unattended.
  • Never use candles, matches or gas stoves in a tent; it can burn within minutes, trapping occupants inside.
  • Place your tent upwind and well away from a fire.
  • Outside of parks and recreation sites, build your fire on rock, clay or sand.
  • Clear an area of at least five metres, which is away from tents, vegetation and other flammable materials.
  • Build the fire-place downwind away from your tent and dig a pit surrounded by rocks.
  • Have a large container of water and a spade handy.
  • When leaving the site or going to sleep, soak the fire with water and stir sand into the ashes or coals until every spark is out. Be careful of the hot steam and splashes when the water comes into contact with the hot coals.

District Emergency Centres

City of Cape TownTel: 021 480 7700
Overberg District MunicipalityTel: 028 425 1690
West Coast District MunicipalityTel: 022 433 8700
Eden District MunicipalityTel: 044 805 5071
Central Karoo District MunicipalityTel: 023 414 2603
Cape Winelands District MunicipalityTel: 021 887 4446
All EmergenciesCell: 112


The content on this page was last updated on 11 February 2014