November 02, 2015

Preventing fires

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What you can do to prevent fires

Preventing FiresMost fires are caused by lack of thought or concentration, or by carelessness. Cigarettes, matches and lighters, candles, heating appliances and equipment such as electric blankets can all be lethal if not carefully monitored.

A fire cannot exist without heat, oxygen and fuel.  If one of these elements is taken away, the fire will die. Fire can be caused by friction, hot surfaces, sparks, open flames, chemical reactions and/or inner heat. You can usually remove the heat from a fire by dousing it with water. You can remove oxygen from a fire by cutting off the air supply to it, using sand, a blanket, foam or special fire-fighting chemicals. Fuel could be gas, electricity, wood or paper.

Fires are most often caused by electrical faults, open flames, hot surfaces, chemical reactions, friction, lightning or static electricity.

The following tips will help keep you and your family safe from fire.

Using electricity safely

  • Do not overload your electrical circuits – in other words, don’t keep more than four plugs on one extension (with your heater, your kettle, your stove…)
  • Service your electrical components regularly and replace faulty ones
  • Switch off all electrical appliances at the wall at night or when leaving your home
  • When you are cooking (on any sort of stove, gas, electric or paraffin), do not leave the pot on the stove unless you are watching it

Using paraffin safely

  • Always handle paraffin with extreme care, as it is poisonous and can burn your skin even if unlit. Paraffin is often sold in containers contaminated with chemicals such as petrol, or mixed with methylated spirits. This can cause it to flare dangerously or even explode
  • Paraffin can cause severe burns, and paraffin stoves that are knocked over or explode are a major cause of injuries and fires in informal settlements. Paraffin also emits harmful fumes when ignited
  • Never leave a paraffin appliance unattended. It only takes a second for a gust of wind, pet or child to knock over a light or stove
  • Make sure paraffin appliances are on a flat, firm surface
  • Do not put a cloth under a paraffin appliance. A child or pet could pull the trailing end and the cloth will then burn, fuelling the fire
  • Always have a bucket of sand nearby when using a paraffin appliance. Water will not extinguish a paraffin fire and can make matters worse by spreading the flames. Paraffin fires can only be extinguished using sand or a fire extinguisher

Safety around an open flame

  • Keep matches and lighters out of children’s reach
  • Cut candles in half to prevent them falling over – and use a candle holder
  • Do not smoke in bed!

Safe living on the urban fringe

Protect your home from a fire if you live near an open veld or on the urban fringe by:

  • Maintaining adequate firebreaks around your property
  • Forming a safety zone around your house, using gravel or lawn that is kept short
  • Keeping your home and garden free of debris such as dead leaves, twigs or litter
  • Cleaning debris from roof surfaces and gutters
  • Cutting down trees and bushes next to the house, or creepers on the walls
  • Removing dead branches from trees and bushes
  • Keeping a fire extinguisher in your house and /or having your garden hose rolled up and ready for use in the event of a fire
  • Considering installing screens, shutters or heavy fire-resistant curtains
  • Storing any firewood, gas, petrol or paint away from living areas
  • Providing enough distance between dwellings for emergency access
  • Where possible, having more than one exit from your dwelling
  • Having an escape plan and making sure that the whole family knows the plan
  • Ensuring that fire hydrants remain unobstructed, especially by parked vehicles
  • Ensuring easy access and turning space for emergency vehicles

How to prevent shack fires

  • Keep a close eye on paraffin stoves. Don’t cook near a window with a curtain
  • Make sure the stove doesn’t fall over, which may burn children or cause a fire
  • Make sure candles are secure and can’t fall over. Don’t go to sleep with candles still burning
  • Teach children about the dangers of fire
  • Watch out for discarded cigarette butts
  • Be aware of the dangers of illegal and faulty electricity connections, which also cause fires
  • Keep a bucket handy to fill with water so that you can extinguish flames easily
  • Keep a bucket of sand to put out paraffin fires
  • Build dwellings a good distance (at least 3 m) apart to prevent fires from spreading. Make sure this space is kept open
  • Keep roads and access to dwellings clear at all times
  • Do not block roads with possessions when there is a fire
  • Do not prevent or disrupt the work of fire crews fighting fires

General safety

  • Keep a well-maintained fire extinguisher in your house, and know how to use it
  • If you have a garden hose, keep it rolled up and ready in case of fire
  • Where possible, have more than one exit from your house
  • Have an escape plan, and make sure that the whole family knows the plan
  • Do not park in the way of a fire hydrant (and remind your neighbours and visitors to do the same)

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