“Please read and take action!” warned the Fire Chief.
Riaan Jacobs—Overstrand Fire Chief (at the time of publication) warned: “Please read and take action!”, after the devastating fire in May, 2008, “Pringle Bay, Betty’s Bay and Rooi Els are rated as being at extreme risk in the firewise risk assessment. The Overstrand Municipality Fire Department consists mainly of volunteer fire fighters, so you can see that it is vital that the municipality, property owners and fire fighters work together to reduce the fire risk. Fire prevention is a far better option than fire fighting!”
Note: While the risk of fire has by no means diminished, names and contact numbers of fire personnel change over time. Residents should, therefore, at all times acquaint themselves with the latest details for use in case of emergencies.
Understanding our fire risk
We live in an extreme fire risk region, and due to global warming that risk is rising rapidly! We’re minutes from disaster due to a combination of factors:
- Fynbos burns readily due to its fine and fibrous nature...
- Aliens (such as rooikrans, gum trees, wattle, etc.) increase the fire fuel load, pushing the fire risk even higher...
- We have a high-traffic road skirting our villages with the ever-present risk of a cigarette butt being discarded by some thoughtless motorist...
- ESKOM power lines have collapsed in our gale-force winds...
- Unfortunately there are always those people who are determined to braai despite the wind...
...and the next thing a spark has been fanned into a raging fire!
Fire Chief, Riaan Jacobs said: “As things are now, in a strong wind, if we can’t get to a fire within five minutes it will be out of control!” What chance is there of getting to a fire within five minutes? The reaction time of the fire fighting units at Kleinmond and Pringle Bay is ten to twenty minutes, so you need to have taken the required steps to slow the fire down!
Saving your home from disaster
When a 2 kilometre wide wall of fire approaches your village – when you can hardly breathe in the dense smoke, and burning cinders are being swept onto your property by the gale-force South-easter, your bushes suddenly fanned into flames, with the fire fighters nowhere in sight – it is too late to work out what to do! Everything needed to save your home and possessions should already have been done.
It is vital to be properly insured, but even the best insurer can’t replace your computer data, files, birth certificates, personal documents, family photos and favourite ornaments and works of art! How much time will it take to rebuild your life? Obviously we need to do everything we can to reduce the risk of a fire starting, and gain those precious extra minutes that will help give fire fighters a better chance to get the fire under control.
Reducing the fire hazards can make it safer for you to stay and defend your home. Begin now by removing:
- ALL DEAD VEGETATION from your property and verges
- ALL FAST BURNING ALIEN INVADERS (rooikrans, pampas grass, port jackson, black wattle, gum trees, etc.) from your property and verge
- ALL BUSHES close to windows, glass doors, wooden decks or beams, etc.
A well-maintained garden will reduce the fire intensity and help slow the fire’s progress. New gardens can be laid out as FireWise gardens (image at the end of this article), and if yours is an established or natural fynbos garden, you should work towards achieving a FireWise garden, year by year.
Stay or evacuate? what to do:
Having assessed the fire risk and taken the physical steps to reduce the hazard: plan for a fire emergency. Decide whether to stay and defend your property – or evacuate. A home is more likely to be saved if there are able-bodied people to quickly extinguish small fires on or near the house, but you need the proper equipment and you must be mentally and physically prepared to fight fire. If you decide to evacuate, do so well before the fire approaches the area. If instructed to evacuate by the authorities, however, do so immediately.
If you decide to stay:
- Evacuate children, pets, the old and infirm, well in advance. Only willing, able-bodied family members should be left to defend the home.
- Have a kit of protective clothing ready (goggles and a tea-towel for over the nose and mouth to help reduce smoke inhalation).
- Keep a fire-fighting kit in readiness (e.g. heavy rubber fire beaters, a ladder, mops, buckets and garden hose with spray nozzle).
- Identify a safe escape route and rendezvous point should the situation become dangerous. No property is worth losing a life over! (NB. Burglar bars and safety gates could trap your family in the home, so be sure to consider these).
- Ensure that all household members know the fire plan. Rehearse it now until you are sure everyone knows exactly what to do.
- Ensure easy access and turning space for emergency vehicles.
- Check the periphery of your home for potential hazards – remove combustible vegetation and garden furniture.
- Use your home sprinkler system to help soak the area. NB. Wait until the fire is close by, as radiant heat accelerates evaporation.
- Keep the fire extinguisher/s in the house. Bring the garden hose into the house as you’ll need it later, and the fire could have destroyed it. Do not spray water against windows as they may crack or shatter.
- Once the fire is nearby, close all exterior openings and check the interior for stray embers. Remove curtains from window openings as these will easily catch alight if the window glass shatters in the heat.
- Fill a bath and buckets as water pressure will drop dramatically due to other fire fighting efforts.
- If necessary, escape from the side of the house furthest from the fire. Use heavy, wet blankets for shielding. Move to a safe open area with limited fire risk.
- Wait for the fire to pass before you leave your home and deal with spot fires in the yard. Check for trees, electrical or telephone poles that may still be burning. Douse with water, but avoid any water coming into contact with electrical wiring. Remember any fire fighting equipment left outside such as hoses, plastic hose connectors etc., may have been damaged.
If you decide to evacuate
Ensure you do not hamper fire fighters or fire engines while making your exit. Assemble at your designated evacuation area, which, until notified of any new locations, are:
PRINGLE BAY: Pringle Bay United Church, Central/Crescent roads.
BETTY'S BAY: Centre Shop parking area and/or Penguin Place. Crassula Hall will be the refreshment and information centre and where traumatised people and animals will receive attention, etc.
ROOI ELS: The CBD parking.
Personal Risk Assessment Questionnaire