Cape Town’s vulnerability to fire risk in the face of its water crisis is illustrated starkly by the wildfires that ravaged the Knysna area in the Western Cape in June last year, which saw at least 600 homes destroyed, 10 000 people displaced, and property damage estimated at R4 billion to R6 billion.
With the strongest South-Easterly winds experienced in December and February, combined with the dire water shortage, there is a potential ‘perfect storm’ situation for fire risk. Areas that are particularly vulnerable in this regard are outlying parts such as Simon’s Town and Noordhoek, where potentially devastating brush fires often break out.
Van Niekerk makes an urgent appeal to homeowners in these affected areas to take a critical inspection of their residences in order to mitigate any potential fire risk. “Factors that are going to cause your house to go up in flames in the event of a fire breaking out are obviously dry vegetation, leaves and debris in the guttering, and long grass. These are easy ways for fires to propagate.”
Therefore it is essential that homeowners ensure that their outdoors housekeeping is in order. “Ensure that the grass around your home is mown properly. If there is a fire break nearby, do not rely on the City Council to maintain it, as their resources are also limited, but keep an eye on it to ensure it provides adequate protection,” van Niekerk urges.
“The problem is that when you have a strong wind coinciding with any fire, there is a very strong possibility of it spreading and jumping to any nearby structures. This means that you do not want combustible material to be exposed. Thus if you have overhanging eaves, for example, close up any gaps between them with fire-resistant board. This will prevent stray embers blowing in under the roof,” van Niekerk explains.
It is important to keep trees trimmed so as to ensure that they do not fall over in the event of a fire, causing it to spread even further. “At the end of the day, such simple measures are all about risk mitigation,” van Niekerk stresses. Wooden houses and thatched-roof houses are at greatest risk.
Van Niekerk points to products such as Thatch Safe spray-on fire retardant for thatch and thatching. “This forms a barrier that inhibits ignition of the treated material, as well as restricting the char to the immediate area affected by the fire.” In addition, special roof tiles are available that can be overlaid on existing thatch roofs for fire prevention.
“What is important here is that water is not required to douse any fire, as it is prevented from spreading in the first place. A typical fire truck contains anything from 3 000 to 9 000 litres of water that, if pumped out at full capacity, will last maybe five minutes. With Day Zero being imminent, Cape Town’s fire and rescue service will be rendered ineffective in any event. Thus it is critical for homeowners to fire-proof their homes as best as possible,” van Niekerk concludes.
Notes to the Editor
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About ASP Fire
ASP Fire operates across the entire African continent from its Gauteng base, providing professional, accredited fire risk management and support to its clients. ASP Fire designs, installs and maintains a full range of fire detection and suppression equipment suited to clients’ needs. ASP Fire provides a holistic, proactive and preventative fire solution based on integrated fire risk assessment, training and consulting, with the installation and maintenance of fire detection and suppression systems that meet SABS, NFPA, FPASA, FDIA and SAQCC standards.
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