Stemming the tide of fire outbreaks in Cape Town

By Staff Writer
It is common knowledge that summer seasons are prone to fire occurrences, but recent days have seen one too many fire out breaks in Cape Town. However, the devastation that these fires leave behind may soon be lessened as a project is underway to paint the informal residents in the vulnerable areas with a fire retardant paint.

Some of the areas hard hit by the recent infernos are Joe Slovo, Noordhoek, Fishhoek, Melkostrand, Elsies River and Michelle’s plain. Many of these fire incidents are punctuated with injuries and the loss of property and belongings and leaving residents in a dark pall of despair.

In a statement by the executive mayor Patricia de Lille for the City of Cape Town, she pointed out that these vulnerable residents have no form of insurance to help them recover from the loss of their homes and processions.

Causes of fire out breaks

Reportedly, Cape Town has had the highest number of fire incidents of any South African City for three years running between 2011 and 2013. Although reports from the city’s Rescue and Fire Safety Services say that the causes of many of these outbreaks are largely undetermined, investigations conducted by the City of Cape Town revealed that the ongoing calamity is a result of negligence and carelessness.

As Alderman Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security for the City of Cape Town  noted: “It also comes down to the fact that people are becoming more and more careless and many fire incidences can be avoided through cautious behaviour.”  

While the cause of these fires is largely undetermined, various assumptions have been made. One being that the increase of fire outbreaks is linked to the obscenely high temperatures and dry windy conditions experienced during summer.

However, Priya Reddy, spokesperson for the City of Cape Town, argued that fires in most of these informal settlements may not necessarily be the result of high temperatures.

Reddy explained that “careless behaviour and other socio-economic factors can spark outbreak of fires. Some fires are started by overloading of electrical circuits through dangerous and illegal connections. Careless smoking and mishandling of lighters, candles, heating appliances and equipment such as electric blankets can also spark terrible fires.”

Combating this problem

The Human Settlement Ministry in conjunction with the metropolitan municipalities are funding the roll out of solar lighting, as well as improved cooking facilities for households in order to limit the use of fossil fuels and liquid fuels which are a major cause of fires in informal settlements.

Reddy stated that to deal with this challenge people also need to equip themselves with the necessary knowledge.

Smith added that the City of Cape Town has issued building kits to residents where their informal structures have been destroyed by fire. “And while the City is building houses according to the housing database for those who qualify, in the interim we will use the paint.  The paint slows down the spread of fire and will give residents more time to escape harm. It also allows the fire services to minimise the damage caused to surrounding structures,” Smith declared.  

“Last week the city launched Misa Umilo Stop the Fire Campaign where we are painting structures in four informal settlements with fire-retardant paint. In Phumlani Village in Lotus River over 550 structures have been painted with the Ikhusela Ikhaya paint. Khusela Ikhaya Paint is water-based, eco-friendly, fire-retardant paint which, when exposed to extreme heat, will expand to form a fire-retardant heat shield,” said Reddy.

As part of the strategic objective to build a safe and caring city, the City conducts ongoing fire awareness and education campaigns to educate residents on the dangers of fire, as well as hazards, preventative measures and how they can work with residents of informal settlements to reduce the risk and number of fires. The City continuously seeks new ways and materials to minimise the risk of fires.

Ultimately, there is very little the City of Cape Town can do without the corporation of residents. They must look out for each other and ensure that they extra caution with inflammable materials, said de Lille. 

For more information on how to prevent fire outbreaks, click here.

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