Fire alert still high in the Western Cape

Personal Lines

Fire alert still high in the Western Cape

Published: 19 April 2021

Firefighters, emergency personnel and helicopter crews have had a challenging 24 hours battling a wildfire on the slopes of Table Mountain that caused havoc in nearby areas forcing the evacuation of hundreds of University of Cape Town (UCT) students. Early this morning residents from parts of Vredehoek, and later on the morning from University Estate, have also been ordered to evacuate.  

The conditions under which the firefighters had to battle the devastating blazes were exacerbated by the prevailing hot and dry weather, and since early this morning the South Easter fuelled the fire in the direction of the City Bowl. The flames caused the destruction of vast amounts of vegetation, damage to structures at UCT and put homes and lives at risk.  

The Western Cape experiences a higher than normal fire risk between December and April each year, and exceedingly high temperatures and strong winds can increase the probability of further fire outbreaks. Santam, South Africa’s leading short-term insurer, says property owners need to stay vigilant and alert.  

Fanus Coetzee, head of Claims at Santam, says their Claims team is on standby to assist all policyholders in the event of any fire damage. They can contact the insurer’s 24/7 claims helpline 0860 505 911

“We anticipate claims notifications for fire and smoke damage to reach us from today onwards, and have already alerted some of our service providers who provide cleaning and restoration services to be readily available. We are also communicating directly with our brokers with the necessary advice and information they can share with their clients to clean their property where there is a low level of smoke damage, as well as the necessary claims process to be followed for extensive smoke and fire damage”. 

Coetzee continues that 99% of all fires are the result of human negligence. “Fire season is a real and present risk over this time of year and residents need to be alert to the dangers fire poses to properties and possessions. To reduce the risk of fire, ensure your house is properly maintained and has surge protection and early warning systems, and that all fire regulations are adhered to, including maintenance of fire equipment, creation of fire breaks, and installation of sprinkler systems. It is also critical that policyholders are compliant with regard to electricity and gas installations. Gas bottles are easily accessible on the outside of the property and can be removed quickly in the event of fire.”

Coetzee offers the following further tips to stay safe:

  • Avoid the build-up of materials that can act as fuel for a fire. For example, recycling stations with cardboard boxes, papers and plastic containers should be kept away from dwellings and emptied on a regular basis. 
  • Smoke detector alarms installed within sections are good additions and can serve as early warning systems.
  • Know where the fire hydrants are located within and outside the property to assist the local fire team with speedy connection of the water hoses.
  • Have a plan as to how the local fire team’s vehicle will access the property in the case of a fire. Entrances/guard houses at residential estates are generally too small for the local fire team’s vehicle to fit through.  
  • Choose evacuation points and routes carefully: Make sure there are multiple routes 
  • Always safely dispose of fires, hot ash, coal and cigarettes.
  • Always work in an open, cleared area when working with power tools.
  • Ensure that your electrical appliances are correctly wired. 
  • Keep the area around your home clear of flammable materials.
  • Regularly service your fire extinguishers according to the stated requirement 
  • Only burn rubbish on cooler, wind-still days, and only if you have a burning permit.
  • Never leave an open fire unattended.

“Home owners should check their insurance policies annually, and ensure that their household contents and home owner’s sum insured are in line with the current replacement value of their household goods. Policyholders should also ensure that the value of their home is adequately insured,” concludes Coetzee.