More than 42,000 fire incidents were reported in South Africa in 2013, according to the Fire Protection Association of South Africa. And the residential sector made up the bulk of the cases (47%), costing more than R1tn in damages.
Formal and informal dwellings were equally matched in the number of fire incidents (4,859 to 4,886) though the number of deaths is skewed towards those living in informal homes (280) compared to 106 in formal dwellings.
Winter is coming
Winter is a time when many more open fires are lit to keep homes warm as well as heaters dusted off and left on overnight while people sleep.
“Hundreds of people are either killed or maimed in domestic fires across the country each year as people attempt to heat their homes to ward off the wintry weather,” says Bridget Aves, regional managing director for Chubb KwaZulu-Natal. “A house fire can start unexpectedly at any time and people need to be particularly careful at this time of year as they resort to additional heating. Thousands of homes each year suffer some form of fire [damage], and for many the consequences can be devastating in both loss of life and property.
“What is really staggering is the number of homes still without any form of basic fire or smoke alarm. For just a few rand this can mean the difference between life and death.”
- Fit a fire or smoke alarm. Test your alarm and change the batteries at least once a year.
- Never leave fires, candles or any form of naked flame in the home unattended and ensure candles are secure before lighting.
- Never leave children around fires, candles or matches unsupervised.
- Keep a fire blanket and suitable extinguisher handy in the kitchen. A fire blanket is able to smother flames either on a person or on a stove. Most reputable fire organisations sell home safety fire-fighting kits.
- Avoid wearing baggy clothes while cooking and around heaters, candles and open fires.
- Never smoke in bed and ensure that all cigarettes and candles are extinguished before retiring for the night.
- In case of a fire, have a plan. Make sure you have more than one escape route should your route become blocked.
- If you have gas, oil or coal-burning appliances be aware of carbon monoxide. Ensure your home is properly ventilated and equipment is regularly serviced and maintained.
- Turn off portable heaters, as well as gas and electric fires before going to bed.
- If you have an open fire ensure the fire guard is secure and in place.
- Keep heaters away from furniture and curtains.
- Use your common sense.
“We are all guilty of bringing out the extra heater, dusting it down and turning it on without rechecking that it is fully safe and it is all too easy for people to be lazy and not take adequate precautions to prevent a fire in the home, the consequences of which can be devastating,” says Aves. “However, people need to be extra vigilant, particularly in the coming months as it gets colder and people go to extra lengths to keep themselves and their homes warm.”
- Display your local fire department telephone number near the phone, on the fridge as well as in your phone
- Crawl low if the house is filled with smoke
- Never open a door that is hot to the touch
- Wake everybody in the house
- If your clothing catches fire – STOP, DROP, ROLL
- Have a safe place to meet outside of the house
- Never re-enter the house for pets or personal belongings
- Tackle the fire if it is safe to do so