Tips – Fire and properties

Understand how fires start

50% of the time we don’t know how wildfires start, but people often play a role. With the right measures and approaches, we can do a lot to prevent runaway fires.

What makes a fire gets out of control?

  • Strong winds
  • Dry vegetation (moisture content in and amount of living vegetation)
  • Long droughts in the dry season
  • Changes in weather and climate which can make fires worse or make them spread more easily (for example, el niño)
  • Other easily burning elements like gas or resin from trees
  • Absence of, or no access to, an early warning system

Wildfires may cause the following:

  • Destruction of crops, infrastructure and the eco-system – the damage often being of a large magnitude
  • Death of people and animals
  • Disruption of road traffic – accidents can happen where smoke makes it hard to see the road or other vehicles
  • Rising levels of smoke pollution, which threatens the health of numbers of people around the area of the wildfire, as well as gases and particle air pollution

How to reduce the risk at your home

If you live close to nature, on the urban ‘fringe’ of the city you are much more at risk of wildfires. You are especially at risk in the dry months that we are experiencing.

Here are some useful tips to protect your property from fire:

  • Maintain proper firebreaks around your property.
  • Form a safety zone around your house using gravel or well-cut lawn.
  • Keep your home and garden free of flammable debris like dead leaves, twigs or litter.
  • Clean debris from roof surfaces and gutters.
  • Cut down trees and bushes next to the house, or creepers on the walls.
  • Remove dead branches from trees and bushes.
  • It is important that you keep a fire extinguisher in your house.
  • Have your garden hose rolled up and ready for use in the event of a fire.
  • Consider installing screens, shutters or heavy fire-resistant curtains.
  • Store any firewood, gas, petrol or paint away from living areas.
  • Provide enough distance between different buildings to allow for emergency access.
  • Where possible, have more than one exit from your home.
  • Have an escape plan and make sure that the whole family knows your plans.
  • Make sure street fire hydrants are easy to get to and not blocked by parked vehicles.
  • Make sure there is easy access and turning space for emergency vehicles.

If a fire has reached your home

The most effective tools to fight fires are:

  • water extinguishers;
  • dry powder extinguishers;
  • carbon-dioxide extinguishers;
  • foam extinguishers;
  • fire hose reels with high-pressure water; and
  • fire hydrants.

Here are some other important things to remember:

  • Remember, smoke is the big danger: avoid inhaling it.
  • When passing through a smoke-filled environment, keep low to avoid the rising smoke.
  • Take short breaths through your nose until you reach safety.
  • Try to cover your face with a damp cloth or handkerchief and get out of the house.
  • Don’t try and save objects, rather save yourself, other people and pets.

If you or someone else’s clothes are on fire, start the stop, drop and roll procedure:

Step 1: Stop where you are
Step 2: Drop to the floor
Step 3: Roll around on the floor – this will help to smother (put out) the flames and may save your life

Help us prevent wildfires

Wildfires can be devastating to plants, animals, humans and the air. We all have to be more careful with fire and open flames when outside. Cape Town is our city and we have to work together to protect it.

Take note of these basic rules:

  • It is an offence to toss a burning cigarette butt from vehicles or anywhere else.
  • The sale, distribution and discharging 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 during the high-risk days – you will have to apply for an open burning permit or have prior authorisation.
  • Make sure 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 – on a stable platform and not near flammable substances of any kind.
  • When camping, extinguish candles, open fires and cigarettes before going to sleep.
  • Put out your braai fires completely before leaving a nature area.
  • Keep a bucket of water, sand or garden hose outside your house in case a fire does accidentally start. Even better, have a fire extinguisher available in your home or motor vehicle.
  • 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.

When an emergency arises

By drafting your own family emergency plan and identifying all your risks, you are in a much better position for any disaster. Read and complete the family emergency plan in our Family Disaster Preparedness Guidelines and make sure everyone knows where to find it.  

We recommend:

  • Ask an out-of-town relative or friend to serve as the “family contact.” After a disaster, it’s often easier to call long distance.
  • Make sure everyone in the family knows the name, address and phone number of the contact person.
  • Teach all family members how and when to turn off the gas, electricity and water.
  • Teach children how and when to call emergency numbers (police, ambulance, fire and rescue services, electricity and water services), and which radio station to tune into for emergency information. See our list of emergency contact numbers.
  • Be prepared to evacuate at any time.

Have the following supplies on hand in case of evacuation:

  • Torches and extra batteries
  • Portable, battery-operated radio and extra batteries tuned to a local station so you can follow emergency instructions
  • First aid kit and manual
  • Emergency food and bottled water
  • Non-electric can opener
  • Essential medicines
  • Cash and credit cards
  • Strong shoes
  • Cell phones
  • Dry clothing

What are your legal fire suppression duties?

  • You must report a wildfire burning on your land to your neighbours and the Fire Protection Association – it is your responsibility not to let a wildfire spread across your land.
  • You cannot interfere with or obstruct someone who is fighting a wildfire.
  • If you own a home or a property, you should develop your own fire management plan.

What must be included in a fire management plan?

  • Fire hazards that you have identified in different parts of your property
  • The best place to build fire breaks
  • Any areas where you feel controlled burns should be carried out

FAQs – Fire and properties

Do I have to have a fire break on my property?

Yes – the basic rule is that every home should have fire breaks along the boundary of their property. This means that the roads authorities are responsible for setting up fire breaks along public roads. You can, however, agree in writing with your neighbour or Fire Protection Association where you are going to put up your fire breaks on your property.

Who will pay for the costs of a fire break?

The costs of a fire break will be shared between the residents who decide to establish them.

What do I do if my neighbour refuses to remove a fire hazard from his/her property?

  • Report the matter to the Fire Protection Association in your area.
  • Write a letter to your neighbour explaining why their actions are unlawful and dangerous. Ask that they sort the problem out.

FAQs – Asbestos

Do Asbestos removal companies have to be registered?

Asbestos contractors must be certified by the South African Department of Labour, in accordance with the asbestos regulations and provisions of the amended Occupational Health and Safety Act, Act 85 of 1993.

What do asbestos companies do?

Asbestos contractors reduce, remove and prevent asbestos dust from spreading.

Is there a list of companies that can remove asbestos from my property?

The following companies are licenced to remove and dispose of asbestos, and operate within the Garden Route:

Asbesaway
Tel: 021 945 2423
E-mail: info@gutterinnovations.co.za

Drizit Environmental
Tel: 021 510 7010 or cell: 083 448 8366
E-mail: stone@drizit.co.za

Envirologic
Tel: 082 737 7378
E-mail: elogic@afrihost.co.za

Enviro Tech South Africa
Tel: 083 264 5289
E-mail: duane@envirotechsa.co.za

Ikar: Asbestos Removal
Tel: 071 360 5857
E-mail: iva@ikar.co.za

Industec
Tel: 011 826 3991 or cell: 083 654 4274
E-mail: hk.industec@mweb.co.za or belind.iws@mweb.co.za

Interwaste
Tel: 011 323 7300
E-mail: sales@interwaste.co.za or george@interwaste.co.za