Statistics over the years indicate that structural fires increase during winter months when everyone is trying to keep warm. Langeberg Fire Services appeal to our communities to assist in the fight to protect lives, properties, and livelihoods, as fire related emergencies could strike any time. Since prevention is better than cure, the Langeberg Fire Services are calling on residents to put a ‘freeze’ on winter fires, to avoid or mitigate the devastating results of uncontrolled fires.
Data on structural fire incidents are readily available. In the year 2020/2021 we received 102 fire emergency calls in Langeberg, of which 81 were shack fires. In 2021/2022, for the period June 2021 to April 2022, 119 fires were recorded, of which 69 were shack fires. With such high figures it is clear that residents of Langeberg Municipality, as well as visitors to our area, have to put a ‘freeze’ on uncontrolled winter fires.
COMMON CAUSES OF STRUCTURAL FIRES
One of the leading causes of home fires and home fire deaths is heating. Space heaters are the equipment most often involved in home fires. Because space heaters are portable, people often tend to put them too close to combustible surfaces such as curtains, beds, clothing, chairs, couches, and rugs. Coil heaters are especially dangerous in this regard because the coils become so hot that it will almost instantaneously ignite any nearby flammable surface.
Portable generators are very useful during power outages. However, many homeowners are unaware that improper use of portable generators can be risky. The most common dangers associated with the use of portable generators are carbon monoxide poisoning, electrical shock, and fire hazards.
Faulty outlets and appliances: Most electrical fires are caused by faulty electrical outlets and old, outdated appliances. Other fires are started by faults in appliance cords, receptacles and switches. Never use an appliance with a worn-out or frayed cord. It can transfer heat to combustible surfaces like floors, curtains and rugs that can start a fire. Running cords under rugs is another cause of electrical fires.
Light fixtures: Light fixtures, lamps and light bulbs are another common reason for electrical fires. Installing a wattage that is too high for the lamps and light fixtures is a leading cause of electrical fires. Always check the maximum recommended bulb wattage on any lighting fixture or lamp and never go over what is recommended.
Extension cords: Misuse of extension cords is another cause of electrical fires. Appliances should be plugged directly into an outlet and not into an extension cord for any length of time. Only use extension cords as a temporary measure. If you do not have the appropriate type of outlet for your appliances, hire an electrician to install new outlets.
Wiring: Outdated wiring often cause electrical fires. If a home is over 20 years old, it may not have the wiring capacity to handle the increased amounts of electrical appliances in today’s average home, such as computers, wide screen televisions, video and gaming players, microwaves, and air-conditioners.
Cooking fires are a primary cause of home fires, fire injuries and deaths. When using paraffin stoves, gas stoves and electrical stoves as cooking sources, keep in mind that cooking is a relaxing and a fun activity that brings family and friends together. During such social interactions we can easily let our guard down and cause a devastating fire-related incident. No stove should ever be left unattended whilst cooking and we must always be alert when we cook.
Candles and paraffin lamps
- Fires caused by candles and paraffin lamps are common during load shedding and power failures
- Fires are common in informal settlements where candles are used as light sources.
- It must never be left unattended, and it must be extinguished before leaving the room, or before going to sleep.
- Candles and paraffin lamps must be kept away from children.
- Candles and paraffin lamps must be kept away from curtains, papers, or any other combustible items.
- Candles and paraffin lamps must be kept away from windows and doors (windy drafts can influence the flames).
- Use appropriate candleholders and keep candles to an appropriate size to prevent it from bending and falling over.
- To avoid spillage of paraffin, never overfill paraffin lamps.
MEASURES TO PREVENT STRUCTURAL FIRES
- Keep the premises free from potential fuels by doing regular maintenance and by creating firebreaks.
- Have a designated area for smoking and make sure cigarette butts are not smouldering, but are completely extinguished.
- Test your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms regularly.
- Keep your stove, oven, and chimney clean.
- Maintain all electrical cords.
- Properly store flammable substances and have LP gas installed by certified service providers, and in accordance with regulations and bylaws.
- Serviced and maintain fire extinguishers.
- Keep matches and lighters out of children’s reach.
- Make sure your home has no illegal electrical connections.
- Before getting rid of ash and coals, soak it with water
- Keep paraffin lanterns in a spot where they will not be accidentally knocked over.
LIQUEFIED PETROLEUM GAS
If you smell gas, take proper safety steps. Immediately put out all smoking materials and all other open flames. Do not operate lights, appliances, telephones or cell phones. Evacuate everyone away from the home or area where you suspect gas is leaking. If it is safe to do so, close or shut off the main gas supply valve. In case of emergency call 023 615 8911. Do not return to the area until the service provider, emergency responder or qualified technician have pronounced the area safe. Only use appliances indoors that are designed and approved for that purpose. Teach all adults on your premises how to shut the valve on your main gas storage tank. Make sure everyone in the house know how to detect a gas leak. Remember only the registered gas practitioner may install gas appliance or equipment. Gas cylinders larger than 19kg (where approval has been granted) must be stored outside and in accordance with the regulations. For safety purposes, it must be stored in a lockable cage with signage that indicates that the gas is flammable and that no open flames may be near the cage. Extreme caution should be exercised once a gas heater is securely connected to a gas bottle and ready for use. All other cylinders must be stored outside the house and in a ventilated cage. Emergency personnel attending to a fire incident must be informed of all gas cylinders on your premises, as these are regulated substances and if mishandled, could result in dire consequences.
In an emergency, an escape plan can save your life. In a smoke-filled and scary atmosphere, it is easy to freeze, panic and become disorientated. Planning and practising how you will escape with your family, or occupants on the premises, will bring the confidence to take speedy and safe action.
TIPS FOR A SAFE ESCAPE
- Make sure everyone in your home knows the emergency evacuation drill and has practised it at least twice every year
- Never assume it is a false alarm when any of your smoke alarms go off.
- Shout ‘FIRE’ to alert other people in your home, or on the premises.
- Don’t waste time investigating what has happened, or rescuing valuables – just get out, stay out, shut the door behind you and call 023 615 8911 once you are safe to do so.
- Don’t try and tackle fires yourself – leave it to the professionals.
- Try to keep calm and stay put once you are safe.
- Before opening a door, check with the back of your hand if it is warm. If warm, do not open it – there might be a fire raging on the other side.
- If there is smoke, keep low to the floor, or ground where the air is clearer.
- Help others who may have difficulty to get out.
- Never go back into a burning building once you are safely outside.
- Guard against having the attitude of ‘It will never happen to me’.
To assist our communities, Langeberg Fire Services have embarked on an ongoing Smoke Alarm Installation Project Thus far, 1833 smoke alarms have been installed in the community. Smoke alarms detect and warn occupants of the presence a fire. A working smoke alarm allows for the opportunity to escape and reduces the risk of dying in a fire by 50%. The ongoing research by the Western Cape Province on the use of smoke alarms in informal settlements is welcomed. For the sake of their lives, their families, and visitors, we encourage beneficiaries to put these smoke alarms to good use.
To empower our communities on how to protect themselves, our Fire Services are now also available for fire and life safety education.
In case of fire related emergencies, please call:
- FIRE EMERGENCY: 023 615 8911
- Langeberg Municipality Call Centre: 0860 88 1111 / 023 615 2219