The number one cause of fires in South Africa
Every year the country experiences many fires stretching across various provinces, often wiping out hundreds of homes in their paths. More than 600 homes were wiped out in the Knysna fires in June 2017. Even so, wild fires are not the most common cause of houses being burned to the ground, particularly in informal settlements.
Electrical faults are the main cause of fires in homes situated in residential areas, while open flames are the number one cause in informal settlements.
According to the Western Cape Disaster Management Centre, carelessness in using candles, heating appliances and cooking fires, is the leading cause of fires in the average Western Cape household. While the stovetop, heater or candle flame may be the element that ignites a fire, it is important to understand that the problem is often found with what fuelled the fire.
A curtain billowing into contact with an electric heater or gas heater’s flame, a dish cloth placed on top of a hot stovetop or a candle falling over onto something combustible are all examples of how fires are typically started in the home. To remain aware of potential fuel for the flames or heat could save your life and even your home.
Does your electric fan heater cause sparks? Do you have an extension cord to one of your appliances with an exposed wire? Electrical faults can be a silent killer. With no heat or any perceived threat, a simple spark can ultimately cause an entire home to be burned to the ground.
Maintaining a home that is electrically safe is just as important as being wary or cautious of hot appliances and open flames.
A more recent rising cause of fires in the home is the failure to switch off an appliance once load shedding has commenced. People tend to forget which appliances were on and often even go to sleep with a stove or heater still switched on. Then, when the power returns, those appliances are immediately powered up and already switched on, with nobody to supervise them.
Always remember to switch off your appliances at the wall, particularly during load shedding or when you are away from home for an extended period.
Five fire safety tips that could save your life
Prevention is better than the cure and seldom more so than when it comes to fire safety. Fires are notoriously fast-spreading and quickly become uncontainable. Putting measures in place to avoid potential danger is the wisest form of fire safety. Here are five tips that could save your home and more importantly, your life.
1. Never leave an open flame unattended
Something as small as a candle can seem so harmless, but whether you have a lit fireplace, a gas heater or a simple candle burning never leave it unattended. If you’re leaving the room for a while, blow out the candle. If your fire has died, make sure there are no hot coals, which could spark and cause a rug or something else that’s inflammable to catch fire. All it takes is a gentle breeze and a piece of material for a fire to start.
2. Create a barrier or fire break around your home
This may sound a little extreme, but it is relatively simple. Fires spread fast, particularly in areas where houses are very near to each other. You regularly hear of fires wiping out large numbers of homes in informal settlements. So in the same way that forests have fire breaks to prevent fires from spreading, homeowners should ensure that there are areas around their homes where the fire cannot continue to be fuelled and spread.
3. Keep exits clear of obstacles
There should always be at least two means of entering and exiting your home. Both of these should be completely clear of any obstacles. Do not put a wardrobe in front of a back door that you don’t use and don’t put an appliance in front of a large window. Be sure that if a fire should occur that you and your family will be able to escape.
4. Check and maintain your electrical appliances
Electrical appliances are a common cause of fires breaking out in homes. When an appliance short-circuits, the electrical spark can cause the appliance itself, or something inflammable nearby to catch alight. If your appliance is acting up, have it repaired by an electrician before you continue to use it. If the cord is worn, be sure to repair or replace it.
5. Have an evacuation plan
No matter how many measures you put in place to avoid fires, some accidents are unavoidable. Make sure that you and your family have planned what you would do in the case of a fire breaking out. Talk through possible scenarios and physically carry out a drill to make sure that everyone understands clearly. This is especially important because you may not always be at home with your children.
What are the different types of fire extinguishers and should I own one?
Most of us have never operated or even held a fire extinguisher, and chances are that you haven’t noticed that there are different types of fire extinguishers, just that they’re usually red. There are significant differences between various types of fire extinguishers and if you can afford one, it is definitely worth having one in the home. But which type?
Different fire extinguishers are used for various types of fires. These types of fires are clearly indicated on the extinguisher, using letters A to F as well as an electric bolt symbol.
Here are the different classes of fires:
Class A: Solid combustibles
These are fires that involve sold materials such as wood, paper and textiles.
Class B: Flammable liquids
Fires caused by liquids such as paraffin, petrol and alcohol.
Class C: Flammable gasses
Fires caused by the combustion of gases such as methane, propane or natural gases.
Class D: Combustible metals
Fires involving metals such as aluminium, lithium and potassium.
Class E: Electrical fires
Fires involving electrical appliances such as heaters and computers.
Class F: Combustible cooking media
Fires containing hot or deep oil and grease, such as fat fryers or overheated oil pan fires.
There are various kinds of fire extinguishers meant to be used on different types of fires. This is very important because, for example, if you were to use a water-based extinguisher on an electrical fire, you could be electrocuted. If you were to use a water-based extinguisher on an oil fire in a large kitchen, it could cause an explosion of steam, which could be very harmful. So it’s important to use the correct extinguisher for the type of fire you’re dealing with.
For home use, an ABC powder-based extinguisher is recommended, since it can put out classes A, B, C as well as electrical fires. Typically in a home, you would not be dealing with a class D or F fire.
They come in various sizes. A note of warning though, be very careful not to inhale the powder and be sure to open windows and doors to allow the room to breathe.