In June 2019, the brigade responded to 150 formal residential fires – a 15% increase in statistics from the same period a year ago.

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

The number of informal residential fires, however, is lower, going from 150 in June last year to 127 this year. 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,” City Mayco Member for Safety and Security JP Smith said. “Add other potential factors like electrical faults, smoking, open flames and the like, and the need for extreme vigilance becomes apparent.”

The Fire and Rescue Service, as well as the City’s Disaster Risk Management Centre, conduct hundreds of fire safety outreach sessions every year. The City has also started accelerating the installation of smoke detectors in informal settlements.

Some of the installations have been funded through ward allocation funding, while others have been partnerships with corporates in areas like 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 rollout,” Smith said. “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.”


– 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 can 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

– Switch off electric blankets at the socket and ensure that it is not left on throughout the night.

Picture: Pixabay

Article written by

Lucinda Dordley

Lucinda is a hard news writer who occasionally dabbles in lifestyle writing, and recent journalism graduate. She is a proud intersectional feminist, and is passionate about actively creating a world which is free of discrimination and inequality.