City of Cape Town urges caution amid increase in residential fires

File image for illustrative purposes. Image: iStock

File image for illustrative purposes. Image: iStock

In June, the fire brigade responded to 150 formal residential fires in the city.

The City of Cape Town’s Fire and Rescue Service has cautioned residents to be extra vigilant amid an increase in residential fires this winter.

The statistics for June 2019 showed a 15 percent decrease in the number of informal settlement fires, but a 15 percent increase in formal residential fires during the same period a year ago, the city said in a statement on Sunday.

In June, the fire brigade responded to 150 formal residential fires. The number of informal residential fires decreased from 150 to 127. There was also a decrease in fatalities, from 12 in June 2018, to six this year.

“Winter presents a challenge, as residents start relying on heaters, electric blankets, and other methods to ward off the chill. The use of so-called galley fires, also known as imbawula, is another big risk factor, as the fumes could result in carbon monoxide poisoning,” mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith said in the statement.

“Add other potential factors like electrical faults, smoking, open flames and the like, and the need for extreme vigilance becomes apparent,” he said.

The fire and rescue service, as well as the city’s disaster risk management centre, conducted hundreds of fire safety outreach sessions every year. The city had also started accelerating the installation of smoke detectors in informal settlements.

Some of the installations had been funded through ward allocation funding, while others had been partnerships with corporates in areas such as Tafelsig, Steenberg, Lavender Hill, Khayelitsha, and Philippi.

“There is always a risk of fire, whether in informal settlements or formal residential areas. Like many other risks to community health and safety, fire prevention requires a collective effort. The city works continuously to increase its level of education and awareness in communities. Furthermore, we are building more fire stations and other resources to bulk up our response to when fires happen. We also call on corporates to come to the table and assist with our smoke detector roll-out.

“However, residents too have a role to play to ensure that they mitigate the risk of fires starting in the first place. Unfortunately, too many fires are still caused by human error or negligence and the increase in heat sources during this time of year makes things even more challenging,” Smith said.

Fire safety tips for winter include:
– ensure that the heater is off before going to sleep or leaving home;
– make sure all the components like the heater, regulator and hose connectors of your unit are well-maintained and follow manufacturer guidelines closely;
– always ensure that the room in use is well-ventilated. If it becomes stuffy, open windows and doors to allow fresh air in immediately;
– carbon monoxide is a colourless and odourless gas that can go completely unnoticed yet cause serious illness or, in severe cases, death due to poisoning;
– never place clothes or other items like towels over your heater;
– do not move your unit while it is in use. First turn it off and wait for it to cool down a little before moving it around;
– keep heaters at least one metre (three feet) away from all flammable objects including furniture, curtains, books and boxes;
– never leave a fireplace unattended, and ensure there are no hot embers remaining;
– keep matches and other ignition sources away from children; and
-switch off electric blankets at the socket and ensure that it is not left on throughout the night.

– African News Agency (ANA)

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