While firefighters have been run off their feet in recent weeks, there is concern that the very hot weather forecast for the next few days will exacerbate the situation. Read more below:
The City of Cape Town appeals to the public to be extremely cautious with open flames and other flammable materials as the prevailing weather conditions increase the risk of fire.
City firefighters are still monitoring hotspots after the latest fire in Vredehoek/Deer Park last night. Approximately 160 City firefighters with 15 fire engines, four water tankers, five bush tenders and six skid units and support staff, assisted by 70 Table Mountain National Park staff with water tankers and skid units, battled gale-force winds and walls of flames throughout the night to safeguard lives and property. A number of residents opted to evacuate of their own accord. While assessments must still be completed, initial estimates are that there has been structural damage in the region of R4,5 million to four structures. Firefighters were also dealing with a large vegetation fire in the wetlands adjacent to Masiphumelele at the same time yesterday.
The Vredehoek/Deer Park fire came hot on the heels of a fire on Signal Hill and just days after firefighters managed to suppress massive fires in Simon’s Town and the Helderberg.
‘The spate of fires is truly suspicious and we have an investigations team that is looking into it. The summer months are bad enough as it is, what with the hot and dry conditions and the strong south-easterly wind. It is a particularly stressful time for our Fire and Rescue Service as well as the other firefighting agencies and we need the public to help us by being careful with flammable materials, but also by reporting fires as soon as they spot them. Where people notice suspicious activity, we encourage them to report that too because we cannot rule out the possibility that some fires are started deliberately,’ said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, Alderman JP Smith.
Between 1 November 2016 and 12 January 2017, the City’s Fire and Rescue Service responded to 5 465 fires – an average of 75 a day. Of these, just shy of 80% were classified as bush, grass or rubbish fires.The City of Cape Town has a firefighting complement of approximately 900 permanent staff members, with between 210 and 250 on shift at the City’s 30 fire stations at any given time. In addition, 120 seasonal firefighters are employed over the summer months and aerial firefighting support is available in the form of two helicopters and a spotter plane. The City’s Disaster Risk Management Centre is another key player in fire suppression, courtesy of its volunteer corps. The City also works closely with other agencies like Table Mountain National Park, Working on Fire and the Volunteer Wildfire Service. Where required, the City can also call on neighbouring municipalities for assistance and vice versa.
The City has made a massive investment in its Fire and Rescue Service since 2006, increasing staff numbers and investing nearly R400 million in fire stations and vehicles, a properly-accredited training college, and plans to build two more fires stations in the next year or two. In addition, Fire and Rescue and Disaster Risk Management staff do ongoing education, training and awareness programmes in communities around fire safety, with nearly 900 sessions undertaken in 2016.
‘There has been some talk about whether Cape Town has enough money and resources to effectively fight fires, given the surge in such incidents since the start of the new year. I want to assure the public that we have the situation in hand and our track record should attest to that. Public safety is a massive priority for us, but it is also a shared responsibility. We can have all the resources in the world, but if the public doesn’t work with us, then it all comes to nought. I’ve also noted comments in the media and agree that firefighting happens before fires start through management of vegetation control around private and public property. Fire breaks are essential, but I must add that with the fires over the last few weeks, the properties affected did have fire breaks and they were mostly well maintained. However, with a freak wind like last night, you would have needed a fire break between 100 and 200 m wide to stop the fire from crossing it.
‘I also want to relay my sincere appreciation to the firefighting staff who have been moving from one exhausting conflagration to the next and to thank all other role players involved in this challenging duty, including the fire reservists and Disaster Risk Management volunteers for their outstanding coordination and relief work. Also, to communities who have demonstrated the most amazing camaraderie and public spirit in assisting with fires and supporting those affected and for their donations. Finally, a special word of thanks to neighbourhood watch organisations who have been playing an increasingly larger role supporting emergency and policing staff, which is leading to us amending our standard operating procedures to make them a formal part of the incident command posts,’ added Alderman Smith.
Tips for preventing wildfires:
- It is an offence to toss a burning cigarette butt from vehicles or anywhere else
- The sale, distribution and discharge of fireworks without a valid permit is an offence
- Fire-wise your garden by limiting flammable vegetation species. You will need to reduce the growth of fire-loving vegetation (usually invasive alien plants) in and around your property by cutting and trimming on a regular basis
- Avoid slash-and-burn or bush-clearing activities on high-risk days – you have to have a burning permit or prior authorisation
- Make sure that fire hydrants are clear and available for emergency services access
- Only braai in safe and designated areas and always put out recreational or cooking fires immediately after use – never leave them unattended
- Use heating, cooking or lighting devices safely – use on a stable platform and not near flammable substances of any kind
- When camping, extinguish candles, open fires and cigarettes before going to sleep
- Always keep matches, lighters, paraffin and poisonous substances out of the reach of children
- Make a proper firebreak between your home and nearby vegetation to protect your property
- Use safety caps on all poisonous or flammable substances containers
Fires must be reported to the City’s Public Emergency Communication Centre by dialling 021 480 7700 from a cellphone or 107 from a landline.