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Western Cape fire season worst in 7 years






Santam working with fire management and local government to help communities manage risk

Cape Town: December to April is fire season in the Western Cape and according to Working on Fire (WoF), a broad-based, integrated fire management initiative; it is already the worst fire season recorded in seven years. And it is not yet February – which, as it is usually the windiest month of the year, is traditionally the high-alert month.

According to the Goodwood Fire Station, the total number of incidents responded to in the Cape Town area (statistics early January 2015) has increased from 3 456 for the 2013/2014 season to 7 949 this season. The number of structural fires has risen from 331 to 694, and the number of wildfires has increased from 1 535 to 2 390, so far. 

Working on Fire says that 99% of all fires are caused by human negligence. According to the Western Cape Disaster Management Centre, fires are most often caused by electrical faults or carelessness. Cigarettes, matches and lighters, candles, heating appliances and open braai fires can all cause fires if not carefully monitored.

It is not only human error that causes fires though. Environmental factors such as changing weather patterns and urban spread increase the risk of fires with the effects and level of damage often being felt more severely. The South-Easter wind coupled with high temperatures make ideal conditions for wild fires to run rampant.

Leading short-term insurer Santam has placed a much bigger focus on fire management over the last five years. “Fire, and the damage it causes, is of enormous concern to us,” says John Melville, head of risk services at Santam. “It is one of the factors that has a direct impact on the sustainability of the short-term insurance industry, both here in South Africa and globally.  

“The challenge lies in forming co-operative partnerships with local government, regulators and with communities. We need a collective effort to effectively fight fire.”

Melville says to prevent the loss of lives and property, everyone needs to be aware of the danger of fire during this season. He offers the following tips to stay safe:

  • Always safely dispose of fires, hot ash, coal and cigarettes

  • Always work in an open, cleared area when working with power tools

  • Ensure that your electrical appliances are correctly wired

  • Keep the area around your home clear of flammable materials

  • Only burn rubbish on cooler, wind-still days, and only if you have a burning permit

  • Never leave an open fire unattended

  • Only use fireworks and Chinese lanterns far from areas prone to fire

  • Register with the Fire Protection Association for enhanced security – failure to do so will have a court automatically assume you are guilty of negligence in the event of a liability lawsuit. 

Melville says fire-fighting units must be deployed within a 25-minute response time to maximise the extent to which high risk areas can be accessed. “International research has consistently found that the capacity to respond to wildfires within this time frame is the critical factor in damage containment. To this end, communities must also be mobilised for effective communication, prevention and risk reduction.”

Santam is a private sector partner of Working on Fire, which also works to address the causes of runaway fires in South Africa and to help communities to manage fire and to extinguish small fires before they become devastating, all-engulfing blazes. Santam works with Working on Fire to lobby municipalities for safer building regulations, to educate communities on fire hazards and to better understand the specific fire risks of particular industries, communities and regions in South Africa.

“We support Working on Fire for a number of reasons. The initiative trains hand-crew firefighters in local communities, thereby creating job opportunities and helping to alleviate poverty and create sustainable communities. We also collaborate with the City of Cape Town to improve the city’s fire and rescue services,” adds Melville.

When reporting fires, contact your district municipality as follows:

  • City of Cape Town: 107 or 021 480 7700 from a cell phone
  • Overberg: 028 425 1690
  • West Coast: 022 433 8700
  • Eden: 044 805 5071
  • Central Karoo: 023 414 2603
  • Cape Winelands: 021 887 4446
Source: Atmosphere Communications
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