Cape’s fire season…what you need to know when travelling

Posted on 1 November 2018

If you are travelling to the Western Cape region during the holiday season, it is important to understand the area’s high fire risk and take extra precaution to prevent starting any fires. The cause of the Cape fires are largely due to hot summer temperatures, strong winds and human negligence. Fire season in the area runs from December to April.

Over the last few weeks, there have been some pretty bad blazes in the Western Cape, with the South African Weather Service issuing warnings of veld fires further up country too. Aside from the Southern Cape, areas affected include parts of the Waterberg District in Limpopo, and the small town of Vrede in the Free State. While we can’t control the extreme weather that causes these wildfires, we can help prevent catalysts for such disasters and heed the advice of the The South African Weather Service:

  • Do not create any open fires or leave fires unattended
  • Do not throw cigarette butts out of cars or into open velds
  • Do not throw bottles in the veld as they can magnify the sun’s rays and start fires
  • Prepare and maintain fire breaks in a controlled manner
  • Never throw water into a fire started by an electrical fault or fires started by oil or paraffin lamps. In this case use sand or a blanket to smother the fire
  • Be alert and listen to the radio or TV for warnings and obey the instructions from the disaster management officers.

Working on Fire, an Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) funded by the Department of Environmental Affairs, runs an Integrated Fire Management Programme in every province. They have deployed firefighters to assist in controlling the flames over the last few weeks across the country, and along the Garden Route in particular – where fires have consumed 29 541 hectares of land. Some of their firefighters and teams from other provinces were also sent down to help.

Authorities have been advising residents and holidaymakers to remain calm amid hysteria on social media. Residents should only evacuate when local authorities, or the municipality, officially issues a call. Be careful when commuting and drive with your lights on. Visibility will be poor as the smoke is a real hazard and can be really dense, not to mention incredibly toxic. This is one disaster you don’t want to stick around for or snap photos of. Keep the roads clear for emergency personnel to attend to victims and fires. Conditions can easily worsen and you risk getting caught in the blaze, or stuck, should roads become blocked.

Insurance company Santam, a private sector partner of Working on Fire, has outlined some responsible practices around the home and your holiday accommodation :

  • Always extinguish fires and safely dispose of 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, provided you have a burning permit
  • Never leave an open fire unattended
  • Only use fireworks and Chinese lanterns far from areas prone to fire
  • 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.

Let’s have a safe summer.

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