The Western Cape government is urging the public to be extra wary as fire season approaches in the country. This follows after the Deer Park fire burned through parts of Table Mountain.
Capetonians were distressed by large plumes of thick grey smoke flowing over Table Mountain on Saturday, October 31. A fire which broke out on the slopes near Deer Park, raged on through the night and was finally brought under control at 4am on Sunday morning.
Runaway fires fanned by strong winds on the slopes of Table Mountain over the weekend caused havoc in nearby areas leading to residents with smoke-logged homes being evacuated.
The cause has been revealed as a possible vagrant fire.
“Summers in the Western Cape can be hot and very windy, and this has in the past contributed to the severity of wildfires. The provincial authorities along with all our partners are on standby already to tackle wildfires that may occur,” said environmental affairs and development planning minister Anton Bredell.
“Early fire warnings remain critical to controlling fires. When a fire does break out, getting control over it as quickly as possible is vital. If we can get to a fire within the first hour the possibility of a major incident is minimised.
“We ask everyone to take extra special care and make fires in designated places only; do not throw cigarette butts out the window; and make sure braai fires are properly extinguished before leaving them,” he added.
Fire damage to residential and commercial estates is proving an increased risk for property owners and insurers alike. Body corporates and trustees should ensure their estates’ insurance is adequate against fire risk.
Head of Santam Real Estate Karl Bishops says, “Flames, smoke and the water used to extinguish a fire can severely harm buildings and residents’ belongings. If an estate fails to have insurance or is underinsured, it may not be able to rebuild or repair damages, which could place the onus on the owners to pay for repairs.
“This could lead to arguments and lawsuits down-the-line, especially as the Sectional Titles Act requires bodies corporate to insure buildings in a scheme to the right replacement value, against fire and other risks. Household contents remains the responsibility of the resident.”
He says that an insurance policy would usually have special and/or general conditions like a ‘prevention of loss clause’ stipulating the precautions bodies corporate must take to prevent losses or accidents. This is often very detailed in terms of fire protection, outlining conditions like the fact that all firefighting equipment must be installed, serviced and maintained in line with the appropriate regulations and by-laws.
There could also be additional benefits in the policy relating to ‘fire extinguishing charges’ that bodies corporate may incur to fight or extinguish a fire. Trustees or scheme executives should familiarize themselves with these as contained in their insurance policy.
Aside from adequate insurance, here are Bishop’s top ways for bodies corporate and trustees to properly manage fire risk for estates, starting by putting a comprehensive fire safety management policy in place which includes the following:
- Fire extinguishers: Make sure that there are fire extinguishers in good working order, located close to any places where fires might be expected to break out. A conduct rule could oblige owners and occupiers to keep fire extinguishers in kitchens and next to any open fireplaces, such as barbecues/braais, in sections or in exclusive use areas. Regular maintenance of the equipment in line with the manufacturer’s requirements cannot be overemphasised.
- Electrical and Gas Certificates of Compliance (C.O.C): Old and unsafe electrical wiring within sections and in exclusive use areas is a concern. Electrical wiring within the areas that residents own and control should be kept in excellent condition so as to reduce the risk of fire. Prevention is much better than cure, so it’s imperative that electrical installations are never compromised.
The use of gas for both cooking and heating has become more common. It is vital that these gas installations and connections are regularly serviced. Gas receptacles should also be stored and secured in accordance with regulations.
The provision of a valid electrical and/or gas Certificate of Compliance provides peace of mind by confirming the installation is legally compliant and safe to use.
- Refuse removal: regularly remove refuse to avoid unnecessary build-up, particularly in areas designated for refuse receptacles. This prevents the build-up of flammable materials which could aid in the spread of a fire.
- Non-standard roof structures: roofs and other structures made from non-standard materials, such as thatch, should be regularly treated with fire retardants along with ensuring that the correct and appropriate number of lightning conductors (masts) are installed.
Here are some general housekeeping tips:
– Avoid the build-up of materials that can act as fuel for a fire. For example, recycling stations with cardboard boxes, papers and plastic containers should be kept away from dwellings and emptied on a regular basis.
– Smoke detector alarms installed within sections are good additions and can serve as early warning systems.
– Know where the fire hydrants are located within and outside the property to assist the local fire team with speedy connection of the water hoses.
– Have a plan as to how the local fire team’s vehicle will access the property in the case of a fire. Entrances/guard houses at residential estates are generally too small for the local fire team’s vehicle to fit through.
– Choose evacuation points and routes carefully:
– Make sure there are multiple routes
– Assembly points should be clearly communicated to all owners/occupants
“As a major fire event can have far-reaching implications for estates, bodies corporate and trustees are urged to identify what fire-prevention, early detection systems and firefighting capabilities are in place. Otherwise, there’s the real and dangerous risk of their estates going up in smoke,” concluded Bishop.