December to April usually signals fire season. However, the prevailing dry conditions and unpredictable winds have already seen fire teams across the country having to contend with numerous veld fires, mountain blazes and several fires related to thatch roof homes and even a restaurant. During this high-risk fire season period, communities, property owners, and in particular, owners of thatch roof dwellings need to be particularly alert.
According to the Western Cape Disaster Management Centre fires are most often caused by electrical faults or carelessness. Cigarettes, matches and lighters, candles, heating appliances and open braai fires can all cause fires if not carefully monitored. Santam has recorded R67.3 million worth of fire-related claims for the year to end October on personal lines only.
Fire safety tips
Marius Neethling, Santam manager of personal lines underwriting says 99% of all fires are caused by human negligence. He offers the following tips to help ensure you stay safe:
- 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.
- Only burn rubbish on cooler, wind-still days, and only if you have a burning permit.
- Never leave an open fire unattended.
- Businesses that have fire hazardous activities should register with the Fire Protection Association for enhanced security – failure to do so will have a court automatically assume you are guilty of negligence in the event of a liability lawsuit.
Thatched roof safety tips
'Thatched home owners should be advised to take extra precautions over the fire season period', says Neethling.
He recommends the following precautions be taken:
- Ensure that the thatch is well maintained at all times.
- Install early warning devices such as carbon monoxide and smoke detectors, which can be linked to an alarm system.
- Install a drencher system and treat thatched roofs with fire retardants. This is particularly effective for residents of thatched villages in small towns that do not have access to proper emergency support.
- Ensure that water points, hoses, fire blankets and extinguishers are within easy reach.
Neethling points out that although thatch roof houses are at no greater risk than tiled roof houses when threatened by fire, the flammable nature of the thatch can cause fires to spread far more rapidly with often devastating consequences.
As a home owner, you should check your insurance policies annually, and ensure that your household contents and home owner’s sum insured are in line with the current replacement value of the goods in your home and your home itself. Policy documentation should be kept safe and in one place, and a copy kept off the premises to ensure access in the event of a home burning down.