Cape Town’s Fire and Rescue Service teams deal with an average number of 8600 vegetation fires every year, most of which occur in the hot and windy summer months.
But, stressing the importance of residential fire safety is the high number of 1665 residential fires reported to the City’s Fire and Rescue Service Command and Control Centre in the five years between 2005 to 2010, of which 870 were at formal households, 688 informal, 97 apartments and 10 hotels and boarding houses.
Residents and all visitors to the Cape are encouraged to be especially cautious during the upcoming holiday period when the city is at a high risk of uncontrolled and runaway vegetation fires. The combination of high temperatures and gale force South Easterly winds is a major contributing factor in the rapid spread of fires. Vegetation fires that occur in mountainous areas are particularly dangerous because of inaccessibility and limited water supply.
Rapidly spreading structural fires pose huge risks to residential areas where the rate of fire spread is directly influenced by building materials, such as untreated timber mostly used in informal settlements. The City’s fire department says generous distances between built structures lower the overall risk of fires spreading, and roadways around houses should always be kept clear of obstructions to allow movement of emergency vehicles. Individual households, in particular mountain side residents should practice domestic fire safety awareness and sufficiently equipped in case of fire.
To prevent potential fire disasters, in addition to stringent domestic safety, vegetation in and around properties have to be strictly controlled. While uncleared alien vegetation on vacant municipal land is the city’s responsibility, it should be reported by ratepayers associations. Fynbos grows at a much lower level than most alien vegetation such as Rooikrans, Port Jackson and Blue Gums, but when very densely populated and depending on wind conditions, fynbos fires spread extremely quickly. And because alien vegetation is known to burn hotter and faster, residents are compelled to report or control overgrown vacant plots.
Fire devastation can be minimized by not only speedy reporting, but the prevention of fires on mountain fringe areas, is of top priority except in specifically demarcated and pre-authorised areas. The city views cigarettes as major pollutants and a prime cause of devastating vegetation fires. When complying with the legal requirements for burning vegetation off-cuts, caution in considering windy conditions is essential. Residents are reminded to ensure that fire hydrants in neighbourhoods remain unobstructed at all times, especially by parked vehicles, and where necessary to report damaged fire hydrants.
In addition to the tireless efforts of the city’s fire department are a number of volunteer organizations who raise community awareness through education and firefighting training programs, such as Working on Fire. And the Volunteer Wildlife Service (VWS), stationed at Jonkershoek and Newlands, has been combating dangerous and often deadly runaway fires since 1999. VWS is a Section 21 company specializing in prescribed burning, tree and vegetation felling, educational programs and projects at schools, as well as community fire fighting projects.
To report fires: Public Emergency Call Centre: 107 landlines, 021 480 7700 cell phones.
To report damaged fire hydrants: 0860 103 089